April 4, 2014

Denver Rallies for Upset of No. 6 Stanford

by Sam Fisher | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Meredith Harris scored five goals, including the game-winner, for Denver in a key MPSF win on the road. (Michelle Hutchins)

Don't call it a comeback.

Nearly halfway through the first half, everything was going wrong for No. 19 Denver. The Pioneers trailed 6-0 after a brutal stretch that saw Denver struggle to control the ball past midfield before mounting a furious comeback to beat No. 6 Stanford 13-12 in Palo Alto, Calif., Friday night for the program's first win at Stanford since April 6, 2007.

"It's a huge win," said Denver head coach Liza Kelly. "Stanford is a great team. I think they are having one of their best years ever, so this is a win that we are ecstatic with."

Early on, Denver (10-1, 4-0 MPSF) struggled to even play with the Cardinal (8-1, 2-1). Stanford controlled almost every faceoff against Denver's Kiki Boone and converted on six of its first 10 shots to take a commanding 6-0 lead. It appeared as though Stanford was well on its way to a statement win on an unseasonably cold and rainy night at Stanford.

But that's when Kelly made a coaching move that changed the course of the game dramatically: switching her player taking the faceoffs from Boone to senior Sonorah Vinyard. Vinyard won the faceoff and continued to shine in the circle for the rest of the night, sparking a 6-1 run over the final 13 minutes of the first half to cut Stanford's lead to 7-6.

"Both Kiki and Sonorah have been really good for us on the draws," Kelly said.. "What we've found is that we just tell them not to take it personally — there are some times where somebody has your number and just trying something different makes a big difference.

"There were time where Kiki was winning it, but we just weren't coming up to it where she was winning it. Sonorah was able to put it into a spot where we were being more successful. [Stanford sophomore] Lucy [Dikeou] is just such a hard person to stop over there that, even though there were times where we got it where we wanted it, she's just such a force that it was hard to block her out or prevent her from still coming up with it."

In the second half, the teams traded a series of jabs instead of the heavyweight punches of the first half. Stanford had the edge for much of the early part of the half, extending its lead to 10-7 before Denver fought back to tie the game at 10 halfway through the second half.

The final 15 minutes were constantly tense. Neither team took more than a one-goal lead the rest of the way, and the play on the field grew more physical as the minutes slowly ticked off the clock. Denver took its first lead of the game at 12-11 on a goal by Rachael Dillon, but Stanford's Kyle Fraser scored less than two minutes later to tie it back up.

Then, with 6:41 left, Meredith Harris put Denver ahead, 13-12, setting up a tense finish. The Cardinal increased the pressure on the offensive and defensive ends, but Denver kept its composure behind the Pioneers' veteran head coach.

"I think [Stanford head coach] Amy [Bokker] is such a good coach that there are times when I feel like we are playing chess on the sideline," Kelly said. "She calls timeout, and I'm like, 'All right. What are they going to get in to? What are we going to do?" And I know she's doing the same thing for us. I think that makes you feel as a coach that you actually are part of it."

In the end, Denver forced one final turnover and held onto the ball until the final seconds, squashing Stanford's chance to force overtime and sealing one of the more impressive comeback wins in Denver program history.

"We were very poised," Kelly said. "I think in years past we might have let [the deficit] get to us a little too much ... I was just really pleased by our ability to maintain our composure after those mistakes."

Denver heads to UC-Davis Sunday for another road conference game before coming back home for a four-game road trip. Stanford will look to get back on track in the MPSF race when it hosts Colorado Sunday at 1 p.m.

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