(Photo courtesy of Hector Garcia-Molina/StanfordPhoto.com)
It’s not every day that a head coach receives an e-mail from the nation’s leading goal scorer to express interest in transferring to his or her program. But that’s exactly what happened to Stanford’s Paul Ratcliffe when Taylor Uhl – formerly a star forward at the University of Minnesota – reached out to him last spring.
Ratcliffe, who tried to recruit Uhl out of high school, was certainly pleased with a second chance at landing the formidable junior striker from Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
“I saw her play at an ODP (Olympic Development Program) regional event prior to her selecting Minnesota and I really thought she had some great ability,” Ratcliffe said. “She was someone I knew about and tried to reach out to her and recruit her initially, but she had committed early to the local school. I never had a chance to show her around Stanford or get to know her, but I always remembered her name because she was an outstanding player. And, then, I saw what she did at Minnesota.”
(Photo courtesy of Rick Bale/StanfordPhoto.com)
Uhl tallied 15 goals and four assists en route to being voted the 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and then followed it up with 21 goals and nine assists for a NCAA-leading 51 points and garnered NSCAA Third Team All-America honors in her sophomore campaign.
By all accounts, the bioengineering student was having a successful collegiate career. But something was missing and Uhl chose to seek a new challenge.
“It came down to just wanting more out of my college experience and what better place to get that than Stanford,” Uhl said. “It has clearly established itself in the classroom and on the soccer field as well.”
Uhl deliberated last spring on which path to follow and decided to transfer from the school located just 20 minutes down the road from her hometown.
“It was something I gave some deep thought to in the spring and I came to my decision and let my team know right away,” Uhl said. “I didn’t try to play any games there. I let my coaches know and started the process of looking elsewhere and quickly fell in love with Stanford.”
With well-respected academics and a women’s soccer program that has advanced to five consecutive Women’s College Cups, winning the 2011 NCAA title, Stanford had a lot to offer in Uhl’s eyes.
“Their success was a big factor,” Uhl said. “You can assume a lot of things about a team if they are successful. You can assume they must get along off the field and have great coaching and great facilities. I had a little bit of contact with Coach Ratcliffe in my initial recruiting phase in high school and really liked his style and how he did things, so he was naturally someone I wanted to reach out to in this process.”
“I really liked her out of high school and knew she was a talented player and to see she was scoring a lot of goals at Minnesota, I knew she had a knack for scoring goals,” Ratcliffe said. “The most difficult part of soccer to me is scoring goals and to find quality players that can finish. I was highly interested and looking for a striker and it just worked out. She’s also an exceptional student so she’s a great fit for Stanford.”
Uhl visited campus last spring, and it didn’t take much to sell her on becoming a part of the Cardinal program but Ratcliffe did make the pitch.
“We had a conversation about where he saw me fitting in and where the team needed help,” Uhl said. “I thought that conversation went wonderfully, which affected my decision slightly but that was just part of it.”
Ratcliffe was definitely in need of a go-to goal scorer, and Uhl’s skills certainly fit the bill.
“Last year, we went to the College Cup and our leading goal scorer had 10 goals,” Ratcliffe said. “In the past, we’ve usually had someone that has scored 20 goals and you usually need someone like that to get to the College Cup level. I always find it best if you have a pure striker, if not two or three, that can score a bunch and Taylor is a player that can score a bunch.”
“I like to consider myself a dangerous player in front of the net,” Uhl said. “My biggest role is scoring goals, however that may come. I pride myself my heading ability, but any way I can put the ball in the back of the net is the biggest thing I bring to this team.”
While the Uhl has had to adjust to new coaches, teammates and playing styles, not to mention a new school, she has excelled for the No. 5 Cardinal with a team-leading 10 goals through 11 games.
“We have a distinct style of play that I think she is embracing and learning about and with each game she improves,” Ratcliffe said. “She loves playing for Stanford and she’s scoring a lot of goals and has made a big impact.”
“We do a lot of pattern work in training, and a lot of finishing which I really appreciate as a forward and I think has helped contribute to my being able to finish quite a bit on the field,” Uhl said. “But I also recognize that a goal is just a final pass and there is so much more that happens before that. I think it is exponentially greater when you’re a team that’s really good because it makes my job really easy.”
In a short period of time, Uhl has made the 2,000-mile move away from her home state and family look practically seamless, at least on the field where she has been an integral part of Stanford’s 9-1-1 season record.
“The first couple weeks I felt like a freshman in a lot of ways, which was to be expected,” Uhl said. “It’s been a process to find my role and my niche on the team, but I think the team has responded really well to me coming in. I don’t think they had to but they chose to embrace me. I’m building great friendships on the team already and it has only been eight weeks since I’ve been out here.”
While Uhl has already gotten a taste of Pac-12 over the last couple weeks – a bit more possession-oriented and less physical than Big Ten play – she and the Cardinal will face their toughest challenge of the season when Stanford hosts No. 2 UCLA in a pivotal league match-up on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Networks). Stanford has won the last seven contests against the Bruins and is looking to start a new Pac-12 winning streak after losing a 1-0 tilt against Arizona State on Oct. 6 – its’ first home loss since 2007. The Cardinal had won 44 consecutive Pac-12 matches as well as 73 straight home games (70-0-3).
“I’m excited to be a part of this rivalry because everyone has been talking about it for the past couple weeks,” Uhl said. “I can’t wait to get out there and see what UCLA’s all about. It will be a huge game in terms of deciding who is at the top of the Pac-12 and it will probably have NCAA Tournament implications as well. We’re excited to get out there and bounce back from a tough weekend and show everyone what Stanford brings to the table.”
Amy Farnum Patronis is a contributing writer for College Soccer News covering Division I women's soccer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.