STANFORD --Top-ranked Stanford advanced to the NCAA women's soccer quarterfinals Sunday with a convincing 3-0 victory over Denver in a Sweet 16 match at Cagan Stadium.
The Cardinal (20-1-1) will play host to Pac-12 rival UCLA on Friday for a chance to reach its fifth consecutive College Cup, soccer's version of the Final Four. Stanford defeated the Bruins 2-1 last month in Westwood. UCLA (18-2-2) advanced Sunday with a 3-0 victory over San Diego State.
"It will be a great game," said senior midfielder Nina Watkins, who scored her third goal of the season Sunday. "They've grown so much and we've grown so much."
Coach Paul Ratcliffe's teams coalesce in the post season. The current group has done it again through three NCAA games this year.
"People said we couldn't do what we do this year," Ratcliffe said.
But the Cardinal has 10 seniors who are 93-3-4 during their careers. The Stanford seniors also are 51-0-1 at home in the past four years.
The team handled unranked Denver (17-3-4) with an aggressive defense and steady attack. The Cardinal took the lead in the ninth minute on Alex Doll's goal off a strong buildup by Courtney Verloo and Chioma Ubogagu on the left. Verloo, who leads the team with 10 goals and 10 assists, found Doll alone in the penalty box for an easy left-footed tap in from 12 yards out.
Stanford doubled the lead in the 57th minute when Watkins fired a 25-yard laser into the upper right corner out of the reach of Pioneers goalkeeper Lara Campbell. Lo'eau LaBonta made it happen by holding possession underneath the defense and passing back to an open Watkins.
Watkins rarely shoots left footed but said, "when opportunity comes you don't want to pass it up."
Ubogagu got the final goal in the 78th minute when Sydney Payne delivered a great through ball on the left. Ubogagu collected the ball from 12 yards out and slammed it past Campbell inside the near post for her fifth goal of the season.
"We were very disciplined," senior fullback Rachel Quon said of the overall effort. "From the beginning we wanted to play our soccer. Once we scored one goal we couldn't just let up."
Denver upset No. 9 Maryland in the second round Friday night to advance to its first Sweet 16. But the Pioneers struggled to mount an attack after forward Kaitlin Bast went out in the 33rd minute. The team's second-leading scorer collided with Stanford defender Laura Liedle and didn't return as a precautionary measure. Coach Jeff Hooker said his forward is OK.
But losing Bast's scoring prowess -- 12 goals and eight assists -- hurt the Pioneers. Hooker said the team also missed her senior leadership as the school lost twice in its final four matches of the season.
The reigning national champion Cardinal, meanwhile, has a 151-game winning streak when scoring a goal. Stanford also extended its home unbeaten streak to 66 games and its home NCAA tournament winning streak to 19 matches.
The senior class wants more after playing in three consecutive College Cups.
"We've been there," Watkins said. "We've felt all the emotions. We don't want to go home without a national championship."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond