Amanda Cromwell has taken UCLA to the final eight of the NCAA tournament five times in her seven years as coach of the women’s soccer team. Three times the Bruins have made the semifinals.
Just once, however, has Cromwell come home with a trophy and for that you can partially thank Stanford, which ended UCLA’s season short of a championship Friday for the second time in three years.
This time it was a physical 4-1 Stanford win in the NCAA semifinals, played on a crisp, wet and windy night at Avaya Stadium. Two years ago the Cardinal beat the Bruins in the tournament final in Orlando, Fla.
The only time UCLA beat Stanford in a playoff game was 2013; not coincidentally the Bruins won the title that season.
This time it wasn’t even close with Stanford (23-1) getting a hat trick from sophomore Sophia Smith and outshooting UCLA 25-8 to win its way back to the final Sunday where it will meet North Carolina, a 2-1 victor over Washington State in Friday’s first semifinal.
“They’re quality players. You’ve got to show up every game,” said senior Kaiya McCullough, who will leave UCLA having never beaten Stanford. “And obviously we didn’t.”
Added Cromwell: “They’re kind of the standard.... It’s been quite a few losses now.”
Senior Chloe Castaneda opened the scoring for No. 7 UCLA (18-5-1) in the seventh minute, driving a left-footed shot from distance over Stanford keeper Katie Meyer, who mistimed her leap. The goal was the third in two games for Castaneda.
But the lead lasted less than 2½ minutes before Smith, who was playing wide all night, got No. 1 Stanford on the board, taking the ball 15 yards inside the UCLA half and dribbling mostly uncontested up the right side before putting a right-footed shot from deep in the penalty area through UCLA keeper Teagan Micah. It was the first goal Micah had allowed in more than three games.
Stanford, which hasn’t lost in 18 tries dating to mid September, went in front to stay midway through the opening half when Carly Malatskey’s shot from inside the box struck the left foot of UCLA defender Lucy Parker, caromed off Micah’s outstretched hands and then hit the inside of the left post before bouncing into the center of the goal.
The goal was the Cardinal’s 100th of the season and 28th in five NCAA tournament games — but it wouldn’t be the last, with Smith putting another shot in off Micah’s hands in the 31st minute to make it 3-1.
If there was any doubt this was Stanford’s night, it was erased just before the intermission when Meyer dove to her left to bat away freshman Mia Fishel’s penalty shot.
Smith finished her hat trick seven minutes into the second half, putting a right-footed shot from a tough angle into the netting on the left side. And it would have been a lot worse had Micah not made a career-high 10 saves.
“It’s sad,” Cromwell said. “It’s a hard way to lose. This didn’t feel like us tonight. We don’t have the satisfaction of it being our best effort. And that’s what’s really tough.”
Added McCullough: “We were just in our locker room crying. It sucks. But that’s the game we play. It doesn’t always go your way. It’s going to hurt for a while.”