[WOMEN'S CUP COLLEGE] For the second year in a row, Stanford came into the NCAA Division I women's final top-ranked and unbeaten. And once again, it came home without the title. But Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum asked one thing after the Irish beat the Cardinal, 1-0, in Sunday's championship game. Please don't call it an upset.
Freshman Adriana Leon's goal in the 62nd minute gave Notre Dame a 1-0 win over the Cardinal to become the lowest seed to ever win the national title.
The Irish won at defending national champion North Carolina (4-1) and Oklahoma State (2-0) to advance to the Women's College Cup, where they beat Ohio State (1-0) in the semifinals.
"The one thing I said on television right after the game was that this [Notre Dame] was the best team in the country," said Waldrum, "this was not an upset. I know everybody had pre-ordained Stanford as the national champion this year. I would make an argument that once the NCAA Tournament started, the path we took with the way we won games with 14 or 15 goals and one against us in four games, beating Carolina on the road, beating a very good Stanford team, knocking off two No. 1's and I think two No. 3's. To me, we're the best team in the country come NCAA Tournament time. I'm really proud of the girls."
Stanford went into the final with a 23-1-2 record and an attack that had scored two or more goals in every game since its 1-1 tie with Boston College in their season opener, but the Irish defense locked down the Cardinal.
"We talked about whether we wanted to drop into a 4-5-1 and drop our wingers a little deep," Waldrum said, "but watching the way they played, they really started to get [Rachel] Quon forward, so we were dropping our wingers back anyway to cover her."
Another key for Waldrum was the play of midfielder Courtney Barg.
"That's the calming effect," he said. "When we get that kind of Courtney, it allows us to do so many other things. I thought she was fantastic at midfield for us today."
Notre Dame is the first team besides North Carolina to win as many as three Division I women's national titles. The Irish also won in 1995 and 2004.
"It's a disappointing way to end the season," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "I'm proud of the team. I thought they played well."
Freshman goalkeeper Emily Oliver made a series of saves to keep the team close, including four spectacular ones in the second half to keep the match close.
Stanford's best chance came from central defender Courtney Verloo, who hadn't scored all season, in the 17th minute when she hit the left post from 20 yards.
"If the shot from Courtney would have went in," said Ratcliffe, "I think that would have broken the ice for us and boosted our confidence, and we could have won today."
Christen Press, the nation's leading scorer, was limited to three shots.
"It's really bitter," she said. "We worked so hard for it. But at the end of the day, soccer is a crazy game, and I've learned over the years that's how it goes."
Dec. 5 in Cary, N.C.
Notre Dame 1 Stanford 0. Goal: Leon 4 (Henderson) 63.
Notre Dame -- Weiss, Campbell, Schuveiller, Morway, Scheidler, Augustin, Barg, Laddish, Tucker, Fowlkes, Henderson. Subs: Leon, Jantsch.
Stanford -- Oliver, Garciamendez, Verloo, Quon, Case, Noyola, Nogueira, A.McCann, Levin, Taylor, Press. Subs: Sydney Payne, Hing-Glover.
Referee: Felisha Mariscal.