The following post was written by Matt Pun
KENNESAW, Ga. — Although both teams feature such depth that nearly any player on the pitch can have a huge impact on the match, several members of the Cardinal and the Blue Devils stand out heading into Sunday's NCAA championship.
Teresa Noyola — This senior midfielder is currently tied for second in the nation with 15 assists this season and has recorded one in each of the Cardinal’s five NCAA tournament games. A skilled distributor with tremendous field vision, Noyola does not hesitate to take her own shots and has two multi-goal games this season. Last year, Noyola scored the equalizer against Duke and then assisted the go-ahead goal.
Chioma Ubogagu — Against then-No. 3 UCLA, Ubogagu scored twice to lead a Cardinal victory. Then, in the NCAA semifinal against Florida State, the Pac-12 freshman of the year showed her star power and astonishing speed, scoring Stanford’s first goal with a shot cleverly placed between the goalkeeper’s legs and assisting the second goal just moments later. “Chi is a superstar for me. It seems like the bigger the stage, the more her game steps up to it,” head coach Paul Ratcliffe said.
Lindsay Taylor — A 20-goal scorer, the Cardinal striker may be the most dangerous forward the Blue Devils have faced all season. Taylor has heated up as the season has progressed, scoring 13 goals in the past 12 games. Additionally, this senior excels under pressure, having scored in all three games in which Stanford has trailed this year, netting two equalizers.
Camille Levin — While playing a major role for the Stanford back line that has given up just nine goals this year, Levin often shifts up to a midfield or forward position during the course of the game and can provide an offensive spark.
Kaitlyn Kerr — Duke’s all-time leading scorer in NCAA tournament play, Kerr has had the hottest offensive run of both teams. Like with Noyola for Stanford, much of Duke’s offense runs through Kerr, but the attacking midfielder has gone on a recent scoring tear. The 5-foot-5 sophomore has scored five of her 11 goals this tournament, including two headers off set pieces.
Kim DeCesare — Always the first off of the bench for head coach Robbie Church, DeCesare has often faced the task of waking up Duke’s offense after a sluggish opening stanza. Always contributing to the defense with strong challenges and hustle plays, DeCesare has assumed a larger offensive role as the season has progressed. At 5-foot-10, DeCesare also poses a major threat off set pieces and has notched a goal in each of the last two games.
Natasha Anasi — Since replacing redshirt junior Ashley Rape early in the season, Anasi has excelled in anchoring a Duke defense. The sophomore’s leadership will be critical as the Blue Devils cannot afford any blunders in their own half, which they committed against Wake Forest. Additionally, with experience as a midfielder, Anasi’s runs from the back have often reignited the Blue Devil offense during its dry spells and could prove pivotal in the final.
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Kelly Cobb — Although she has only scored once in the NCAA tournament so far, Cobb’s value to Duke cannot be denied. The standout freshman, who has 11 goals this season and is not afraid to have a try on goal, attracts multiple markers wherever she is on the field, opening up a number of opportunities for Kerr and DeCesare to attack.
Keys to the Game:
In order for Stanford to win, the Cardinal will have to avoid any mistakes when defending set pieces. Although an impressive header clearance of a Florida State corner kick spurred Ubogagu’s game-changing counter attack, Duke has scored five goals off of set pieces in the last three games.
For the Blue Devils, the key will be to put on their top defensive performance of the season. If Duke misplaces a pass in the backfield or sets its wall for a free kick poorly as happened against Wake Forest, Stanford will capitalize and likely hold the lead. Given the Blue Devils’ tendency to score later rather than sooner, halting the Cardinal attack in the first half will be crucial.