Stanford women graduated 16 seniors after last year's DI college final, and so when the new squad assembled in fall 2012, they had many holes to fill. They put their collective head down, put in the work, and banged out another perfect league season. They warmed up for the post-season against Women’s Premier League champion Berkeley All Blues, played a couple of women’s clubs during spring break in Hawaii, and prepared to host one of four regional sites for the women’s DI and DII college championships.
On home turf, Stanford kicked off the playoffs with a Round of 16 match against New Mexico, which won a Pacific Mountain Conference play-in seed.
“We played pretty well,” Stanford coach Matt Sherman said. “But we struggled with our discipline in the first half, gave up a lot of unnecessary penalties that put us under some pressure. Coupled with the fact that we weren’t playing field position well, we struggled to get going.
“The refereeing was really good and fair, but we just failed to adjust,” Sherman added. “All the credit to New Mexico. They’re a good team, played us hard, and did a good job of turning the ball.”
The first half ended 14-5 to Stanford, thanks to tries from Darcey Pancoast and Michelle Teo, and one of Aly Gleason’s four conversions. But it wasn’t the smooth Stanford rugby to which one is accustomed. The second half saw the Cardinal play a better mental game, better discipline and fewer penalties, and consequently, the majority of the second half was contested in New Mexico’s end.
Sasha Herbst De Cortina had a fantastic second 40, touching down three of Stanford’s six second-half tries. Jamie Lawrence, Caitlin Breen and Sara Maurer also dotted down, while Gleason tacked on three conversions. Stanford won 48-10.
“I was really proud of the team for staying composed, this being our first single-elimination game,” Sherman said. “They continued through a bit of a struggle patch, but stuck to the game plan and improved as the game went on.”
Meanwhile, Texas A&M made a thrilling comeback against California, winning 39-37 to advance to the Elite 8 against Stanford. The Cardinal remained focused on improving the trouble areas that marked the first half against New Mexico, but they also had a unique area of concern.
“In preparing for A&M, we talked about their outside center [Bonnie Richardson],” Sherman said. “She’s a tremendous player – I have to imagine the best player in collegiate rugby. I guess that’s not fair since I haven’t seen everyone, but she’s electric, a complete player in all aspects. I think she scored six tries against Cal, so we made a few adjustments to try and mollify the type of ball that she would get. We did a pretty good job of it. Michelle Teo really stepped up and defended well against a good player – although she still got through us a couple of times.”
Three times, actually.
A&M didn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of style of play, but adjusting to one standout player was something Stanford hadn’t done before.
“She tested us in a way that we haven’t seen,” Sherman said. “She’s phenomenal, and every time she touched the ball, we had to be on our A game. We stepped up in some ways and adjusted in the second half, but even then, she could break us down. It was a new challenge to play such a good player.”
But Stanford was the more complete team and pulled out a 67-22 win. Tries came out of Gleason (2), Herbst De Cortina (3), Shola Oyedele (2), Hillary Streeter, Maxine Fonua, Smriti Sridhar and Maurer. Gleason (5) and Lawrence took care of the extras.
“We were fortunate,” Sherman said. “Texas A&M had a great year, are a great team, but I think they had to expend a lot of energy in their victory over Cal [on Saturday].
“We haven’t had a superstar player,” Sherman struggled to name a standout on the weekend, “and I consider that one of our biggest strengths. Everyone stepped up this weekend, especially today. We’re a relatively young group, but they’ve worked hard and have come a long way. This was our best performance as a team this year.”
Stanford returns to the final four, where they’ll see Norwich in fewer than three weeks.
“We’ve seen Norwich twice,” Sherman said, “at the DII championships [held at Stanford last year] and at the 7s championship in December. I was nothing short of impressed. They were organized as a group, adventurous in the way they play, and had the skill to back it up. They were disciplined in their roles, and switched on and engaged. A very complete team both times I’ve seen them.”
Stanford has a healthy respect for their next opponent, but they’ll focus the next two weeks on getting past the Cadets and back to that national final, where they’ll see the winner of Penn State v Navy.