CARY, N.C. -- Randy Waldrum thought his team would win the national title. He even had a guess as to how it would happen.
Notre Dame's coach was correct on both accounts.
Freshman Adriana Leon scored in the 63rd minute to help the Fighting Irish defeat Stanford 1-0 on Sunday for their third NCAA Women's College Cup championship.
Melissa Henderson assisted on the goal for Notre Dame (21-2-2), which joined North Carolina as the only schools with at least three Women's College Cup titles.
"Please have the courage to write that this was the best team in the country, not that this was an upset," Waldrum said. "I know everybody had preordained Stanford as the national champion this year. But I would make the argument that once the NCAA tournament started, the path we took and the way we won games ... we clearly were the best team in the country."
Stanford (23-1-2) had its 22-game winning streak snapped and lost in the NCAA championship game for the second year in a row. The Cardinal had not trailed since Sept. 10, a span of 20 matches, before Leon's fourth goal of the season.
"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves," Stanford forward Christen Press said. "It's hard coming in being the undefeated team, so there are a lot of things that don't necessarily go our way because of that pressure."
The Fighting Irish felt no such burden. Before the game, Waldrum even told Leon that she would score the winning goal.
"I don't think words can describe the feeling," she said. "Best feeling in the world."
Leon shot the ball with her left foot into the top of the net over the outstretched right arm of Stanford goalkeeper Emily Oliver. Henderson made the play possible with one of several scoring opportunities she generated on a cold, blustery day after snow fell overnight.
Henderson gained control of the ball in the midfield and dribbled past two defenders down the left flank. Just before she reached the end line, Henderson crossed the ball to the middle where Leon was waiting.
The Fighting Irish improved to 44-0-2 in games in which Henderson, the tournament's most outstanding offensive player, has tallied a goal or an assist.
"Every single one of those defenders is a great player," Henderson said. "But there was a point, even in the first half, where we were like, 'We've got this. We can match up and we can just shred them if we need to.' And we did it."
The Cardinal's best chance to score came a minute before Leon's goal, but Notre Dame goalkeeper Nikki Weiss saved a diving header by Alina Garciamendez after a feed from Lindsay Taylor on a free kick.
Stanford's Courtney Verloo nearly scored in the 17th minute of the first half, making a long run from her defender position and blasting a right-footed shot from just outside the box. The ball hooked out of the reach of Weiss, but it hit the left post and bounced away from the goal.
"If the shot from Courtney would have went in, I think that would have broken the ice for us and boosted the confidence and then we could have won," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said.
Instead, the Cardinal went home empty-handed after its third consecutive trip to the Women's College Cup. The Fighting Irish know the feeling. They fell short in four consecutive Women's College Cup appearances from 2006-09, including championship game losses here in '06 and '08.
But they broke through for their first national title since 2004 with a six-game tournament run in which they outscored their opponents 15-1.
"We've been through it all together," Henderson said. "We were talking about this today. We'll take those losses in the past years. We'll take that because today it all came down to it, and we won it. It's a national championship. There's nothing better."