Strong on college soccer's biggest stage

Stacey Strong, all 5-foot-3 of her, is on the verge of bringing back to Santa Rosa the most important women’s soccer medal any player in the Empire has ever earned.

When Strong’s Southern Cal Trojans play Florida State at 11 a.m. today (ESPN2) at College Station, Texas, it will be for the NCAA women’s championship. Neither school has ever won an NCAA women’s soccer championship.

Only one other Sonoma County women’s player has never been this close.

Catherine Sigler (Ursuline) made it to the national semifinals with Notre Dame a few years ago. And this year, ironically, Strong’s Montgomery High teammate Elise Britt was on the UCLA roster in their semifinal matchup.

And then two years later Sigler, who transferred to Santa Clara, made it to the finals but lost, ironically, to Notre Dame.

But now it’s Strong’s turn on the biggest stage in collegiate women’s soccer.

“I can’t even explain how exciting this is,” Strong said Saturday from College Station. “And I think we are ready for Florida State. We didn’t get to see them play in their semifinal game (FSU beat Notre Dame), but our coaches have a good scouting report on them.”

Strong, the fastest player on the Trojan roster, is known for her skills on the ball, her intelligence on the field and her tenacity. Maybe that comes from having to share a house with two brothers (Steven and Scott). But whatever brought out her toughness it wasn’t because of her body build (5-3).

“It was just like in the UCLA game,” Strong said, “our coach told us we were down 1-0 at halftime so go out and be really aggressive in the second half. What did we have to lose? And that’s how I play, aggressively.”

As it turned out that total team aggressiveness earned USC a ticket to the finals for the first time.

Strong played midfield most of her career but first-year USC coach Ali Khosroshahin didn’t like her style in that position, actually benched her for awhile this season and then moved her back into a defender’s position. It was then that the Trojans started to click.

So today, with her parents Jim and Bonnie in attendance right behind the USC band’s tuba player no less, Stacey and the Trojans will give it a shot.

Here are some stats from the Trojans’ season:

– This is USC’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Championship game
– USC had never passed the NCAA Second Round until this season
– The Trojans are 10-8 all-time in NCAA competition
– USC has outscored opponents 45-13 this season
– USC has outscored NCAA Tournament opponents 8-1
– UCLA was the first team to score on the Trojans in tournament play
– Khosroshahin has become one of only two coaches to lead their team to the NCAA title game as a first-year coach (Randy Waldrum did it with Notre Dame in 1999)
– USC has scored the third most single-season goals in program history (45)
– 13 single-season goals allowed is a program record at USC (last achieved in 2006)
– USC goalkeeper Kristin Olsen had a career-high eight saves in the semifinal against UCLA
– Amy Rodriguez had the first multiple-goal game with two against UCLA in the semifinal.
– Rodriguez now ranks No. 6 all-time at USC in career points (59), No. 7 in career goals (23) and No. 4 in career game-winning goals (9).
– Freshman Ashli Sandoval now ranks No. 10 all-time at USC in career assists (11).
– USC’s win over UCLA snapped a 11-game winless streak against the Bruins (last win in 1998).
– USC is 1-2 all-time against Florida State