Another NCAA soccer test for the women | November 22, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - November 22, 2013

Another NCAA soccer test for the women

Cardinal faces South Carolina in second round on Friday; women's volleyball sweeps Pac-12 leader Washington

by Rick Eymer

It has been a while since the No. 17-ranked Stanford women's soccer team has been in the underdog role so early in the NCAA tournament. But, that's exactly where the Cardinal finds itself heading into Friday's second-round match (5 p.m.) against South Carolina at UCLA.

The Bruins and Kentucky meet in a later match, with the winners playing in Sunday's Sweet Sixteen at 4 p.m.

The Cardinal (14-5-1) beat visiting Cal State Fullerton, 1-0, in the first round last Friday night, outshooting the Titans, 21-6. The Gamecocks (17-3-2) knocked off Furman, 5-0. Taylor Uhl scored the lone goal.

"It shows they had a great year and they know how to finish," Stanford junior midfielder Lo'eau LaBonta said. "We have to bring our 'A' game. At practice, we keep getting better. We're still improving."

Stanford, which has reached each of the past five Final Fours, winning the national title in 2011, has had to incorporate eight freshmen and overcome the loss of senior goalie Emily Oliver, one of the top goalkeepers in Cardinal history, to early medical retirement a few weeks into the season.

"We clicked in the first week of practice," LaBonta said. It took longer on the field to click. A lot of people bring different things to the team."

Cardinal coach Paul Ratcliffe tinkered with his lineup nearly every game, and even showed a different lineup against the Titans.

"It's an inexperienced group but I told them their freshmen season is over," Ratycliffe said. "This is a new season. We want to play well, put our best foot forward, and compete."

Freshmen Maddie Bauer and Stephanie Amack were key for Stanford against Cal State Fullerton. The defenders not only helped keep the ball out of the net, defended by freshman Jane Campbell, but also started many of the attacks that led to scoring opportunities.

"Maddie is having an incredible season," Ratcliffe said. "She's a leader as a freshman and plays nearly 90 minutes every game."

Senior Natalie Griffen and sophomore Laura Liedle are also important on the back end for the Cardinal.

Griffen and fellow seniors Courtney Verloo, Sydney Payne, Oliver, Shelby Payne and Taylor McCann have been part of a great tradition at Stanford.

"They have been amazing for the program," Ratcliffe said. "It's one of the most successful classes ever and it would be great if we found a way to end end their careers on a high note."

Women's volleyball

Senior Rachel Williams had a big day behind the service line as well as at the net, helping fifth-ranked Stanford knock off No. 3 Washington, 25-19, 25-21, 25-22, Wednesday night at Maples Pavilion in Pac-12 action.

The Cardinal (14-3 in the Pac-12, 21-5 overall) hosts Washington State on Friday at 6 p.m.

Stanford, all alone in second place, drew within a game of first-place Washington in the conference standings, with three matches remaining.

Williams led a balanced attack with 11 kills and a hitting percentage of .529 as the Cardinal beat its first top 10 opponent and improved to 19-0 on the season when winning the first two sets of a match.

Williams, who also had nine digs, four blocks and two aces, served the final six points of the second set, including an ace to finish the comeback.

Sophomore middle blocker Inky Ajanaku registered 10 kills on a .400 hitting percentage to go with eight blocks, including two solo. Senior Carly Wopat added nine kills and two blocks, while sophomore Brittany Howard had eight kills and 10 digs.

Sophomore setter Madi Bugg finished with 38 assists, eight digs and three kills. She is just three assists shy of 2,000 for her career.

Sophomore Jordan Burgess notched seven kills, four digs and tied her season-high with three blocks. Junior libero Kyle Gilbert finished with a match-high 16 digs and moved into fifth place, past All-American and Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh, on the Cardinal's all-time digs list (1,295).

Stanford is 26-1 overall at Maples Pavilion dating to the start of the 2012 campaign.

Palo Alto High grad Melanie Wade played in all three games for Washington and had three kills and six block assists.