For the past three seasons, Stanford women’s soccer has dominated the PAC-12. There is no other way to put it – Stanford has run the table three years in a row in the league and brings a 31-game winning streak in conference play into 2012.
“I did not know we did that,” Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe told TopDrawerSoccer.com when asked about the winning-streak in PAC-12 play. “The PAC-12 is a very strong conference, and if we did do that, it is incredible.”
The last time Ratcliffe’s team lost in conference play was October 2008 at UCLA. Since then, the Cardinal captured three league crowns, and won the NCAA Division I National Title last December after losing in the final the previous two years.
Despite finally claiming the ultimate prize, the coach is not worried about the team sitting back and relaxing now that the hardware is in the glass case in Palo Alto.
In between now and then, Stanford is gearing up for spring ball, which does not begin until April 3 for the Cardinal due to the school’s quarter system.
“Basically, the spring time for me is about helping each player grow individually,” Ratcliffe said. “Then later in the spring, bring them in as a group and get the team to play at the best of their abilities so we are ready for the fall.”
The coach politely declined to single out any one program that he felt could challenge his squad when the real games start in the fall, but did say many of the teams are capable of unseating the favorite.
“I think there is so much parity in the PAC-12 that it depends on who is healthy and finds the right chemistry,” Ratcliffe said. “All of the coaches are very strong and there are a lot of talented players.”
The coach went on to note that he is keeping a keen eye on the CONCACAF U20 Championship, which ends on Sunday, for players to note for next season.
UCLA duo Sarah Killion and Samantha Mewis, as well as Stanford forward Chioma Ubogagu, have performed admirably for the U.S. while Oregon State striker Jenna Richardson has scored twice in three games for Canada.
“Obviously for us, it is fantastic to see her doing well down there,” Oregon State head coach Linus Rhode told TopDrawerSoccer.com about Richardson. “Back here in Corvallis, we are very proud of what she is doing.”
Rhode’s team has not started spring soccer yet either, but his team is training during this winter term, which he said is going well.
“We are working on the attacking half of the field,” Rhode said. “Working on the attacking pattern and ways to break down different formations.”
The coach also believes he has a solid core of players for next year’s team as the Beavers look to challenge the Goliath of the west, Stanford.
“Stanford is a team that has a tremendous amount of depth along with a tremendous amount of attacking weapons,” Rhode said. “Over the course of 90 minutes, it is very hard to stifle their attack when they have so many different weapons – not only on the field, but also to bring off the bench.”
Oregon State was the only PAC-12 team to take the lead against Stanford in a game last season. The Beavers eventually lost 2-1, but it did give the emerging program in the Northwest confidence moving forward.
“I think we are closing the gap,” Rhode said. “Keeping the game so close last year was definitely a plus for us as a program. Closing that gap gives the returning players confidence that we can compete against Stanford. We also know that they will be losing players who have brought that program a lot of success of the last few years.”
UCLA is also in the discussion for the top spot of the PAC-12 in the fall, but first someone will have to stop the Ratcliffe’s juggernaut, which doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
PAC-12 women’s soccer players to watch:
Courtney Verloo, Stanford, Defense – The former U20 Women’s National Team midfielder missed last season due to injury, but coach Ratcliffe said she is back now and ready for 2012. “She is an amazing player,” he said. Verloo scored four goals and had six assists in her freshman season in just 8 starts. In her sophomore campaign, she moved to center back and started every game. Ratcliffe is very happy to have that sort of versatility back on the roster this season. Current U.S. U20 star forward Chioma Ubogagu also figures to be a standout in the PAC-12 in 2012.
Jenna Richardson, Oregon State, Forward – The Canada U20 national team striker found the back of the net eight times in her sophomore campaign for Oregon State, which brought her career total to 17 goals in 38 games. With the top three scorers for the Beavers (Chelsea Buckland, Richardson, and Justyne Freud) back next season, it figures to be a potent attack in Corvallis.J.R. Eskilson is a staff reporter at TopDrawerSoccer.com. Follow him on or send him an email.