Defending NCAA Soccer Champ Stanford Kicks Off Conference Play

Logan Panchot took the touch from 20 yards out. It was an excellent pass, and it set up his shot perfectly. Then Panchot stepped up and hit a low ball that tucked itself neatly into the far post.

That goal was Panchot’s first for the Stanford men’s soccer team. It came in the 51st minute of a tough matchup against Yale on September 17, a 3–1 win for the Cardinal.

Panchot is one of 10 freshman trying to make an impact for a Stanford team attempting to win a third straight national title for the first time since Virginia did it in the early 1990s.

Currently, though, the tournament is a long way off. The Cardinal is 6-3-0 heading into conference play, which begins on September 28 with an away match at San Diego State. “We’ve got an awful lot of games between now and the NCAA tournament, and once you start the tournament you’ve got a lot of games to try and win,” says coach Jeremy Gunn.

Gunn is the mastermind behind the 11th-ranked team in the country and back-to-back NCAA champions. Since he first arrived on campus in 2012, he has maintained the same encouraging, calm personality that has led the Cardinal to the top of the college soccer hierarchy.

“I knew straightaway that I’d be able to continue to grow and learn,” says Gunn of his first impression of Stanford.

Gunn had a prominent college career at Cal-Bakersfield, earning first-team All-America honors, and then went on to play professionally in the USISL. Later, Gunn coached at Cal-Bakersfield, Fort Lewis, and the University of Charlotte before coming to the Stanford program.

As a coach, Gunn pushes his philosophy of keeping your mind on the next play all the time. No one advocates more loudly than he does for the importance of a strong team mentality, which can be seen paying off at every Stanford game.

“[Gunn] is a very nice guy off the field, treats you well, but when it comes down to it, soccer is his business,” says Drew Skundrich, a senior midfielder and co-captain of the team.

The Cardinal only lost a couple of seniors after last season and still have a fully stocked roster, including Tomas Hilliard-Arce, Foster Langsdorf, and Skundrich.

Langsdorf leads the team with six goals heading into conference play, and Skundrich is close behind with two goals and two assists. Meanwhile, Hilliard-Arce has anchored the defensive line, which has four shutouts.

Perhaps the biggest loss from last season is goalkeeper Andrew Epstein, who did not let in any goals in his five 2016 College Cup games. He made a game-winning save by blocking the last penalty kick in the championship win over Wake Forest.

Nico Corti, a redshirt senior, replaced Epstein and has only let in six goals this season. He’s made 17 saves, including one against Yale in the final few minutes on a one-on-one with a Bulldogs’ forward.

“While we miss Andrew as a player,” says Gunn, “Nico has stepped up and done incredibly well.”

With its experienced team, the Cardinal have a good chance of doing well in the NCAA tournament. Most likely the biggest obstacle in Stanford’s way is Washington, who beat the Cardinal last season. The Huskies are in second place in the Pac-12 standings, right behind Stanford.

This season’s clashes against Washington will take place on October 12 (at Stanford) and 17 (in Seattle).

“It’s always a very competitive game, and [Washington is] a great team,” says Gunn. “[That matchup] is always one that could go either way.”

Though Stanford is currently in the top five, the Cardinal will have to work extremely hard to win it all for the third time. “If we can be successful and survive until tomorrow,” says Gunn, “then we can do it again.”

Photographs by (from top): Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos/Getty Images (team); Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images (Skundrich)

 

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