Taylor Uhl makes Stanford whole

Hector Garcia-Molina/StanfordPhoto.com

Stanford's Taylor Uhl is fascinated by the advancements in prosthetics occurring in her major of bioengineering, but some day she may have the option of putting graduate school on hold to play soccer professionally.

Taylor Uhl sounds a lot like what many of us might expect a Stanford student to sound like as she talks about bioengineering, her major at the university that recently checked in at No. 5 in U.S. News & World Report's annual national rankings, the best of any school that has also produced a national championship team in women's soccer.

"Bioengineering is kind of the culmination of engineering within the human body, so designing any device that mimics something in the human body that's not working right or you don't have," Uhl explained. "Really interesting right now is the newest technology with prosthetics. It's still kind of out of this world to believe, but scientists have figured out how to give someone, like, a prosthetic arm and then implant a device in their brain, so if you just think about moving the arm you don't have, the prosthetic arm will move and do what you tell it to do, which is crazy to me."

Such enthusiasm presumably fits right in on a campus responsible for everything from Nobel Prize winners to Snapchat. And that enthusiasm certainly fits in on the soccer field near Palo Alto. And while surely not as life-changing as replacing a limb or as significant as mimicking a healthy organ, her arrival from the University of Minnesota made the Cardinal lineup whole this season.

Hector Garcia-Molina/StanfordPhoto.com

Taylor Uhl, left, the first transfer in coach Paul Ratcliffe's 11 seasons at Stanford, has scored 10 goals in her first 11 games with the Cardinal.

In the lecture halls and labs she is a transfer. On the field, she is a goal-scoring transplant.

Even after a surprise loss this past weekend to Arizona State, ending Stanford's 73-game home unbeaten streak and its 44-game conference winning streak, the Cardinal remain one of a handful of teams with just one loss and among a similarly select group of teams with serious title aspirations. At the forefront, literally, is Uhl, the first transfer in coach Paul Ratcliffe's 11 seasons at the school. The forward has 10 goals in 11 games this season, 38 percent of Stanford's total production. Among teams ranked in last week's top 10, only Florida's Savannah Jordan is responsible for a greater percentage of her team's goals.

"She's fantastic," said senior Emily Oliver, who recently retired because of injuries but remains with the team. "She's just a phenomenal target forward. And I think that's been a great asset to have this year is just a strong target forward, somebody you can lob the ball up to, somebody who is going to hold possession for us and give our defense a little bit of relief and a breather.

"She's just been great in terms of coming into the team and making an impact right away."

Natural finishers have a way of doing that. Despite the fact that Uhl still has another season to play, she ranks seventh in the nation in career goals among active players. She scored 15 goals as a freshman for Minnesota in 2011, then avoided any sophomore slump with 21 goals in 2012, tied with two other players for the most in Division I.

With eight games remaining in the 2013 regular season and as many as six more available in the NCAA tournament to a team still very much in the running for a No. 1 seed, Uhl has a strong chance to become just the sixth player in the past decade to achieve back-to-back 20-goal seasons beyond the low-major level. She would join Milwaukee's Sarah Hagen, Notre Dame's Kerri Hanks, Stanford's Christen Press, Portland's Christine Sinclair and Penn State's Tiffany Weimer, and that is some heady company for a college player.

No program has churned out goal scorers in recent seasons quite like Stanford. Putting aside doing it in back-to-back seasons, only 21 times did a player manage to score 20 goals even once in the past five seasons. And four of those efforts belong to former Stanford players (Press, Lindsay Taylor and Kelley O'Hara), both cause and effect for a program that hasn't missed a College Cup since 2007.

The Cardinal came within a bounce here or a break there of beating North Carolina in last season's College Cup semifinal, and they didn't have a single player who scored more than 10 goals all season. The team still averaged better than two goals per game. Balance can get the job done. But from Robin van Persie in Manchester a season ago to Stanford's lineage of strikers, soccer loves a finisher.

"I think it's important to have a great goal scorer," Ratcliffe said. "She's going to be a different dynamic to our team, in that when we are struggling certain games, if we can just provide her with service, we might have an outlet to get a goal because she only needs a few chances and she usually gets good strikes on goal."

Uhl is reluctant to speak about her reasons for leaving Minnesota after two years, but when she made the decision to leave her home-state school and informed the necessary people, she said she wasn't certain where she wanted to go next. Ratcliffe originally recruited the prep All-American out of high school but never convinced her to visit Stanford at that time. So he knew what he was dealing with when Uhl reached out after last season, even if he was otherwise unfamiliar with the transfer market.

"Obviously, my preference is to coach someone for four years so I can really help them develop for four years," Ratcliffe said. "But if there is a fantastic player who wants to transfer, obviously I'm going to take a good look at them. Taylor's a great talent and a great student."

The latter matters. As much as fitting in on a top-five soccer team is a challenge, so, too, is fitting in at a top-five school in any major, let alone bioengineering.

Stanford operates on an academic quarter system, as opposed to the semester system employed at Minnesota and many other schools. In addition to causing Uhl to fear many of her credits wouldn't transfer between the two systems (enough did that she is still on track to graduate in four years), the schedule meant she had already scored eight goals for Stanford before classes began on Sept. 23.

"The first week, you don't really lollygag into everything," Uhl said. "We went ahead and we got started on the first day, which I'm not used to. But it's going well so far. Lot of work so far, but that's to be expected."

Soccer may leave her with little free time, but with three lab classes awaiting in the quarter that begins a month after the College Cup, the fall may actually prove to be the easy time.

Her academic adviser is involved in the kind of research with prosthetic limbs that so fascinates her, a development she hopes may lead to time in the lab exploring those frontiers before she finishes her undergraduate studies. From there, graduate school looms. Not that she's opposed to putting scholarly pursuits on hold for a few years to play professionally in the National Women's Soccer League or elsewhere.

She won't hurt for options when she's done, but those choices can wait. A person can do a lot in two years. And score a lot of goals.

"It has definitely sunk in that I'm at Stanford, which is just amazing to say," Uhl said.

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