by Rick Eymer
With one little tap of her forehead, Palo Alto High grad Teresa Noyola gave the Stanford women's soccer team its first lead in an NCAA championship contest. That goal was all the top-ranked and top-seeded Cardinal needed to win its first national soccer title.
"You don't get that many opportunities at this stage," Noyola said. "Camille (Levin) played a great ball and that shows how connected we are. I knew exactly what she was going to do."
Stanford topped Duke, 1-0, on Sunday at Kennesaw State and then celebrated as years of frustration melted away. The senior class finally did it, after four straight trips to the Women's College Cup.
"This win caps off four tremendous years at Stanford," said Cardinal coach Paul Ratcliffe. "The last four years this team has been incredible, and they're shown such great character to have all those setbacks and come back and fight through and achieve our goal of winning a national championship."
"Since we lost last year we have been working so hard for this," added Levin, one of four seniors. "I've never been on a team that worked so hard for each other and wanted to win for each other like we did this year."
Levin's brilliant crossing pass from just outside the penalty box near the end line set up Noyola's soaring header inside the near post. It was Stanford's first score in a championship game following 1-0 losses the past two seasons. The Cardinal also dropped a 1-0 contest in the semifinals when Noyola and Levin were freshmen.
"The confidence I felt before this game wasn't there before," Levin said. "I think that was a huge factor."
Stanford earned its 102nd NCAA team title and extended to 36 years its consecutive year streak of at least one NCAA team crown.
"What I feel right now is such thankfulness to my teammates that we finally did it," said Noyola, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Offensive Player. "This team deserves it. We've worked extremely hard."
Stanford seniors Noyola, Levin, Kristy Zurmuhlen and Castilleja grad Lindsay Taylor finished their college careers with a record of 95-4-4, including a 53-0-1 mark at home and a 25-0-1 record just this season.
The seniors' last three losses came in a 2008 national semifinal to Notre Dame, to North Carolina in the 2009 championship match and to Notre Dame in last year's final.
Noyola scored in the 53rd minute after Levin won a ball at the goal line about eight yards right of the goal. She crossed to the far post, where Noyola headed it from one yard.
"I went to cross it initially and the girl slid," Levin said. "I got up as fast as I could. I saw someone run into the box but I wasn't exactly sure where she was and I just tried to get it in there."
The Blue Devils had two players on Levin when she was tackled.
"I think we had two players on the ball wide. The ball popped out right to her feet so she had a second look at a service," Duke keeper Tara Campbell said. "It was perfectly placed back side. I got across my goal and I think I covered up as much of it as I could and Noyola put it in the corner."
Duke (22-4-1) had several scoring opportunities after that.
Stanford (25-0-1) carried action in the first half with seven shots, three on goal, while Stanford goalkeeper Emily Oliver did not have to make a save on the Blue Devils' five wild shots.
"We haven't played a team that played their style all year," Duke's Laura Weinburg said. "Their center backs get forward and their outside backs are great players. Their two center backs are also great players. I think we did get some good looks, but props to their defense they played a great game."
The Blue Devils out-shot Stanford 9-5 in the second half and, although Oliver had to make just two saves, they were both on legitimate chances.
"We were close a couple of times," Duke coach Robbie Church said. "Emily Oliver played fantastic. She made two big-time saves."
Oliver was named the tournament's Most Valuable Defensive Player.
Weinburg just missed a shot two minutes later for Duke, and forward Kelly Cobb sent a line drive at goal in the 78th minute from about 25 yards only to have Oliver leap and tip it over the cross bar.
"She's very mobile," Church said of Oliver. "She's one of the best at controlling the top part of the box. If you play any straight balls at all, she's going to come up. She supports her back four really well.
"The ball that Kaitlyn Kerr hit, that was a big-time save," Church said. "I thought that was in the corner and she pushed it over. I was very impressed."
Oliver seemed to play better under the pressure of the final 20 minutes.
"It was the longest 20 minutes of my life," Oliver said. "I think it's a stage that we've been before. The whole team handled it well. I think we played a really smart last 20 minutes."
Palo Alto High grad Alex Kershner is a freshman reserve goalkeeper at Duke.
Stanford has not lost since 2006 when it scored a goal, a record of 123-0-5 that dates to a game against Wake Forest early in the 2006 season.
The Cardinal became just the second Pac-12 team to win a national title, joining USC, which won in 2007. UCLA has been the national runner-up on three occasions.
Duke reached its first national title game since 1992, when it lost to North Carolina.
Stanford also becomes just the eighth program to win a women's soccer title, as North Carolina owns 20 titles, Notre Dame has three titles, Portland has two while USC, Florida, George Mason and Santa Clara also own titles.
"I'm really proud we broke through and won the national championship," said Ratcliffe, who finished his ninth season. "Stanford has a tradition of excellence in athletics and academics, so we want to keep that going on the soccer stage. So I'm really proud. Now, the pressure's on and we have to keep this rolling."