Stanford's back line leads Cardinal past UCLA

October, 18, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. -- Cornerstones of the nation's most prolific offense, No. 1 Stanford's renowned attacking trio of Kelley O'Hara, Christen Press and Lindsay Taylor did everything but put the ball in the back of the net during Sunday's showdown against No. 3 UCLA.

The Cardinal's back line did them one better; they simply did everything.

The result was a 2-0 win, Stanford's first against the Bruins since 2002, a year before coach Paul Ratcliffe arrived and four years before even the current seniors arrived.

"I know definitely it's been on our calendar since preseason started," senior Alicia Jenkins said of the UCLA game.

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Ali Riley
Rick Bale/Stanford AthleticsAli Riley assisted Stanford's second goal in the Cardinal's win against UCLA on Sunday.

The goals came in quick succession midway through the second half -- the first an own-goal deflection from the scramble in the 18-yard box after Press' shot from the top of the box was blocked and the second on Ali Riley's long cross from the left side that Camille Levin headed in at the far post. Yet the Cardinal controlled the game for not just those 116 seconds but much of the entire 90 minutes, finishing with 10 more shots (24-14) and six more corners (6-0) than the Bruins.

Credit the familiar names for a considerable amount of that. The Bruins struggled to catch O'Hara, Press and Taylor from behind and fared little better staying in front of them. Two days after scoring twice in a 4-0 win against USC, O'Hara made a convincing argument for the Hermann Trophy without registering a point.

But in silencing UCLA's own star-studded front line -- not to mention sparking the attack in the second half -- the back line stole the show.

"I thought Alicia [Jenkins] was brilliant today," Ratcliffe said. "I thought Alina [Garciamendez] did a great job and Ali Riley and [Rachel] Quon on the outside, I thought they played very, very well. I was impressed with them, really solid."

Stanford's offense was a known quantity entering the season, but the defense was more of a question mark after losing center backs Marisa Abegg and Allison Falk to graduation. Jenkins, a starter at outside back last season, moved to fill one of the spots in the middle, while freshmen Garciamendez and Quon filled the two vacancies inside and outside, respectively.

The Cardinal gave up five goals in their first three games this season (all wins, courtesy of 13 goals from the offense). But they haven't allowed an opponent to score from the run of play since, conceding just three goals off corner kicks and one penalty kick in the past 12 games.

"It's come together so much," Riley said. "I think we had a little bit of a rough start, just getting to know each other. It's kind of a scary area to be fitting in new players and putting people in different positions. But Alina and Rachel are such talented players, and Alicia has made such a big switch from outside back to center back, that it's come together really well."

Despite giving away size to UCLA's Lauren Cheney and Sydney Leroux, the 5-foot-4 Jenkins gave keeper Kira Maker protection worthy of the Secret Service. And with that behind them, plus the effort others expended defending, Riley and Quon were free to roam up the flanks and create the opportunities.

And for the nation's top-ranked team, an affirmation of sorts.

"This year had a different feel to it," Jenkins said. "We were talking about it before the game -- just a confidence that maybe we haven't had before. And I think it really showed today."

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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