SAN JOSE, California - It was a title game that was decided on the slimmest of margin. It was a game that had tactical nuance and unrivaled competitiveness. It was a game fit for the biggest occasion of amateur athletics.
Stanford won the 2019 NCAA Women’s College Cup National Championship in an extended penalty kick shootout against North Carolina on Sunday night from Avaya Stadium. The game ended in a scoreless draw as North Carolina’s dogged determination and cohesive defending stifle the most potent attacking talent in college soccer.
Stanford goalkeeper Katie Meyer made a pair of saves in the shootout and right back Kiki Pickett converted the final shot from the spot to seal the victory for the team playing in front of a partisan home crowd of nearly 10,000 on hand.
“I told myself this ball has to be mine,” Meyer said about her second save in the shootout that set-up the game-winner from Pickett. “I think there is a feeling deep down in there that you have to make a save. I knew Kiki was going to make her PK so I already started celebrating.”
Pickett made the decisive shot from the spot. The right back was cool as a cucumber under the spotlight with the weight of the trophy on her shoulders. She sent the crowd into a joyful celebration with a well-placed shot.
Elation for one meant heartbreak for the other. North Carolina’s players were left with tears in the eyes for the second season in a row. The Tar Heels lost to Florida State in the championship game last season.
"I think that's why it hurts more because we lost in the final again,” Dickey said. "We called it redemption year.”
It was a tight contest throughout the clash. Stanford had more chances over the 110 minutes, but North Carolina arguably had the best chance of the game.
“I thought our pressure was wonderful,” Dorrance said. “I kept looking up to the see [Alessia] Russo was inside six. It skidded wide. We had an opportunity to win the game against an extraordinary team.”
The play started with the Tar Heels disrupting Stanford in an opportune spot. Isabel Cox had the ball at her feet in a 2v1 opportunity. She played a cross to Russo at the far post, but the ball took a bounce and Russo could only get her shinguard on the ball. Her attempt went wide of the goal.
Stanford’s chances came in spurts. North Carolina did well weathering most of those storms especially early on in the game.
Maycee Bell, Dickey, and the North Carolina defense were the highlights of the first half on Sunday. Dickey made an outstanding save on a shot from Sophia Smith in the 34th minute. Dickey used her left hand and a diving effort to keep the low driven ball out of the goal for the opener in the first half. Dickey finished the half with only two saves, which is a testament to the 10 players in front of her. The goalkeeper finished the night with a career high in saves.
“Claudia Dickey, who for my money, is one of the best collegiate goalkeepers in the country,” Dorrance said. “I was very proud of the effort from my kids.”
Stanford controlled where the game was played, but had trouble fooling the North Carolina defense. Lotte Wubben-Moy and Bell ate up the center of the Stanford of the attack. Morgan Goff snuffed out any bad touches and Bell prevented any Stanford attacker from turning toward goal. Without a player to hold the ball, the wings on Stanford struggled to find the same success that they had against UCLA.
“With all due respect to Sophia Smith, the team revolves around Madison Haley,” Dorrance said. “We had to come up with an idea on how to stop her. We were spitballing because we lost a significant player [Emily Fox] before we got here. Morgan Goff sat on top of our two CBs. Every time Haley got it, she doubled back. This remarkable player in Madison Haley was controlled. I want to give Goff full credit.”
With Madison Haley silenced, North Carolina pressed hard against the wings. Julia Dorsey and Bridgette Andrzejewski were excellent in isolation situations. They played tight on the touch of the Stanford wingers.
Stanford’s dynamic attack looked one-dimensional - granted the brilliance of Sophia Smith and Catarina Macario still created problems, but Dickey rose to the occasion on the only real threat on goal in the first half.
The game was on a knife’s edge for much of the second half as it felt like any chance could be the difference in the game. Catarina Macario skated into the attacking 18-yard box in the 63rd minute, and it felt like a moment of Macario magic was near but Dickey made a good stop on the close shot - her third save of the game.
Macario took over the game for much of the second half. She found success in playing quick combinations off Haley. However, Bell stood her up on a couple of challenges. Wubben-Moy was key with a few blocks. Goff threw herself in front of a few shots as well. It was a true team effort from the North Carolina defense.
Stanford kept knocking at the door. Haley put her head on a cross but her effort went harmlessly wide of the goal. Macario had a shot just inside the top of the box get past the bodies of defenders, but Dickey watched it cruise wide of the post. Macario finished the first 90 minutes of the game with eight shots. North Carolina, as a team, had six shots.
North Carolina’s relentless effort was the only thing that kept Stanford scoreless for the first 90 minutes of the game.
“We gave everything we had,” Dickey said after the game. “We played for each other.”
“Defense is a collective effort,” Brianna Pinto said after the game. “That was a talented Stanford team. We held them to zero goals which was impressive. We hold each other to a high standard. We give any opposition a strong effort.”
The game opened up in the overtime period. North Carolina put two shots on goal - which was equal to the amount the Tar Heels put on frame during the first 90 minutes of the game. Katie Meyer made the save on both chances. Center back Naomi Girma also blocked a pair of shots including a rocket off the foot of Russo.
Stanford saved the best chances for last. Carly Malatskey tried her luck on a long range missile that skipped off the ground and looked bound for the lower corner, but Dickey’s quick reaction and strong hand kept the ball out of the net.
On the ensuing sequence from the corner kick, the ball dropped into the path of Smith from about eight yards out. Smith put all her might behind the shot, but it clanked off the top of the crossbar.
The pair of saves from Meyer and the five makes from six shots from the spot made the difference on a night when the two powerhouses of women’s soccer were so evenly matched. Catarina Macario, Sophia Smith, Naomi Girma, Kennedy Wesley, and Kiki Pickett converted from the spot for the champions, who won their third title in program history.
All-Tournament Team: Jessie Fleming (UCLA), Morgan Weaver (WSU), Lotte Wubben-Moy (UNC), Julia Dorsey (UNC), Morgan Goff (UNC), Sophia Smith (Stanford), Naomi Girma (Stanford), Catarina Macario (Stanford), Madison Haley (Stanford), Katie Meyer (Stanford), Kiki Pickett (Stanford)
Offensive Player of the College Cup: Sophia Smith (Stanford)
Defensive Player of the College Cup: Naomi Girma (Stanford)