Focusing on a national title for Stanford women's soccer

Stanford senior Andi Sullivan is a preseason All-American but would like nothing better than to help the Cardinal win a national title. Photo by Lyndsay Radnedge/Stanford Athletics.

When Stanford soccer midfielder Andi Sullivan first arrived at the U.S. senior national team's training camp in Salt Lake City last October, she was incredibly nervous.

"Wow, I'm really not ready for this," she thought to herself as she joined the drills. The exercises moved so fast that by the time she got the hang of something, it had already finished five minutes ago.

Kyra Carusa
"You had to be firing (on all) cylinders at all times," she said. "I told myself, 'Keep your head down and work hard. Be responsive and try to absorb as much information as possible.'"

Sullivan, who has served as Stanford's team captain since her sophomore year, said getting a taste of playing at the highest level, something she knew she wanted to do since she was a child, "was very surreal." The invitation was already more than enough, so she was shocked when she was instructed to start a game.

"These are players that I've either looked up to since I was a kid or watched on TV growing up," she said. "You play with them and you realize,'Oh my gosh, they're even better than you get to see on TV.'"

"The team ... made me want to go home and work some more so I could come back and be better for my Stanford team and also for them in the future," she added.

Second-ranked Stanford opens the season with a trip to Milwaukee to meet host Marquette on Friday and Wisconsin on Sunday.

Her challenge as team captain is establishing a culture in which every team member feels like she can contribute, even as players rotate in and out every year.

"At the end of the day, we want to perform well and we want to win games, so whether you're playing or not, you want to be contributing to that team's energy and competitiveness," she said. "It's never about you; it's about how I'm pushing my teammates to be better so that in the game they're ready, and how they're pushing me to be better so I'm ready no matter the circumstance."

That way, the big wins mean even more because everyone is celebrating together, she said. When someone scores and the whole team sprints out onto the field in victory, there's an "infectious energy" that is irreplaceable.

"It's one single moment but there's so much work that goes into it," she said. "To get to celebrate it for a second, and to keep pursuing that feeling . . . that result is so special."

She said she likes to be the glue on the team, working defensively and initializing possession and then letting the "special players do their thing."

Sullivan, said Cardinal coach Paul Ratcliffe, leads by example. She is a team player, whether she's helping with recruiting future players or mentoring younger players. There's no one quality that stands out because she has so many.

"She's a great leader; she's technically very good; she's competitive; she's a ball-winner," he said. "She has good vision and kind of checks all the boxes in a player. And she's a great human being, a great person; very easy to talk to, humble, cares a lot about others. She's a great representative of Stanford."

Every day, she demands excellence of herself and her teammates, giving 100 percent in "everything she does" and training at the highest level she can, Ratcliffe said.

That training paid off this year as Stanford pursued the Pac-12 championship against rival California. Sullivan took on two defenders by herself in the 56th minute and made a "perfectly placed shot" at the lower right corner of the goal, said Ratcliffe, giving the team a decisive lead against Cal.

"She rose to the occasion," Ratcliffe said. "It was a big game, and she had the determination and competitiveness to fight through and make a huge impact on us."

As Sullivan enters her senior year, she is continuing recovery from tearing her anterior cruciate ligament last year. She'll return to the field this season and hopes to secure the national championship.

Though she feels like "we're due," she's focused on trusting the process of training and being "resilient and relentless" in pursuing that goal.

She hasn't given much thought yet to post-Stanford years but knows she wants a professional soccer career. Her dream? Playing in the Olympics and World Cup.

"I feel confident enough that if I do the work and put in the right effort, I feel like I'm on the right track," she said. "I realize those words have weight and they're not going to just happen, but I don't think they're out of reach."

The Cardinal advancing to the Final Four in 2016 and securing its victory against Florida with a free kick in overtime; the team beating Oregon State in 2016 with two seconds to go in "this absurd condition where it was pouring down rain and the ball was getting stuck in the mud and you shouldn't even be playing;" Stanford winning its 11th Pac-12 title this past year: these are the moments that will stay with her long after she leaves the field.

But for now, she's putting all her energy into her last season at Stanford.

"I can't wait to see what kind of memories we'll make this year," she said. "Because (past memories) are really special but we can't live off those. You've got to go out and create more."

Stanford returns 12 of its top 15 leaders in minutes played, including seven who featured in all 21 matches: Kyra Carusa, Michelle Xiao, Sacred Heart Prep grad Tierna Davidson, Tegan McGrady, Alana Cook, Beattie Goad and Averie Collins.

Carusa returns after leading the Pac-12 in assists (10); her 0.48 assist/game ratio was tops in the league with no other player owning a ratio of 0.39 or higher.

As a team, Stanford led the Pac-12 in goals (51), points (141) and goals (28) during league play.

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