On the one hand, it’s no surprise that Stanford women are poised for another undefeated season in the Pacific Mountain North Conference (they still have to beat UC Davis this Saturday). It was a bit of shock, however, to hear that the Cardinal only beat Chico State by two points, 20-18, last Saturday.
“We were happy to come away with the win and to be able to grind out a close game,” Stanford coach Matt Sherman said. “But from a performance standpoint, I think we felt we could have played better in many areas. However, I think part of that was due to a good Chico State team putting us under pressure. Chico plays very hard and physical, and had the run of play in a lot of the game.”
The two teams are very familiar with each other, and Chico came into the match looking to shut down Stanford’s attack out wide. Chico had their collective eye set on a new threat – tall, speedy freshman Sara Maurer. Chico State coach Alex Triantafyllou was pleased with his side's ability to contain Stanford's finishers, and the Cardinal scored their fewest points-for all season. They scored enough points, though, and that's because Stanford isn't a one-dimensional team and found ways to diversify their attack.
“They had big forwards whom we didn’t see at their invitational [in January],” Triantafyllou said. “They put us under a lot of pressure and pushed us around in the scrum. We never had a good attacking platform from our set piece.”
The space opened up for Stanford, and the Palo Alto side sent Aly Gleason, Michelle Batlle, Jamie Lawrence and Smriti Sridhar in for first-half tries. It looked as if the game could have gotten away from Chico, which managed a Megan Foster penalty in the first 40 minutes, but CSU stuck with it.
“Stanford was the more organized team,” Triantafyllou said. “They moved the ball well and stretched out our defense. We were a little scrappier. We played a little more smash-mouth than we wanted to. We had been spreading the ball on offense [in previous games], but their defense was stifling. There wasn’t much movement in our backs – too flat, too much pressure – but we did well with our little kicks.”
Chico kept grinding it out, kept attacking, and found inspiration through outside center Natalie Oelsner, flyhalf Kylie Hahn and lock Jamie McElhinney, who led by example and energized their teammates. They were finally rewarded when Hahn finished off a nice set piece move for a try. Foster then added 10 points on her second penalty and a converted try with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, 20-18.
Chico had the opportunity to steal the game, receiving a penalty around Stanford’s 30 meter with no time on the clock. Unfortunately it was just out of Foster’s range, and Chico had to settle for the bonus-point loss.
“It would have been awesome to take the game at the end there,” said Triantafyllou, who quickly asserted that the final play was not the deciding factor in the game. “One of Stanford’s tries – we had a scrum on our 22 meter and were penalized for feeding. Their scrumhalf quick-tapped and shot right through us for a gimme try. Had we not given that away, it would have been another story.”
“I think at the end of the day we had a few very good patches that bailed us out,” Sherman said. “But as a team, we failed to click and be consistent, particularly with our ball handling.”
Chico was happy to play the DI championship finalist so close, however, the loss was particularly painful given the point differential.
“Losing to Stanford is normal,” Triantafyllou reflected on recent history. “But this game is disappointing because we could have had this one. Take away one bad scrum where they scored a try, a few mistakes, and this game was ours to take.”
Stanford has played a couple of close matches this season, including a 45-34 win over Oregon the previous weekend. Stanford might be working their depth, or maybe they’re struggling to fill the shoes that stalwarts like All Americans Amelia Villines, Bisi Ibrahim, Molly Kinsella and Frances Wehrwein have left.
In other conference news, UC Davis has strengthened their post-season hopes, going 2-0 in Oregon last weekend. Their 22-10 win over Oregon and 20-15 victory over Oregon State shot Davis (3-1) up to third place over Cal.
Tries: Gleason, Batlle, Lawrence, Sridhar
Chico State 18
Tries: Hahn, Foster
Pens: Foster 2