Bison are big question mark for Bears

Lauren Battung scored Cal’s first goal in its 2-1 overtime win over San Diego State on Sunday. It was her second goal of the year.
Sean Goebel/Staff
Lauren Battung scored Cal’s first goal in its 2-1 overtime win over San Diego State on Sunday. It was her second goal of the year.

Last year, the Cal women’s soccer team had its biggest victory of the season against Hawaii at Edwards Stadium, piling eight goals from six different players.

But as the Bears prepare to fly down to Honolulu for the rematch, coach Neil McGuire does not expect another romp over the Rainbow Wahine.

“Hawaii has a new coach and the players will be more motivated,” McGuire said. “We are also playing in front of about 3,000 people. I don’t anticipate any sort of similar performances.”

Participating in the ‘Ohana Hotels No Kai ‘Oi tournament, Cal (1-1) will first play North Dakota State (1-0) on Friday night at 10 p.m. before battling the tournament host Hawaii (0-1) on Sunday night at 8 p.m. Both matches are at the Waipi’o Peninsula Soccer Stadium.

Neither the Bison nor the Wahine have close to the talent the Bears have. Although North Dakota State  won more than half its matches last season, most of its opponents were tiny, obscure schools scattered across the Dakotas. With such obscurity, Cal players and coaches are readying to play the Bison knowing nearly nothing about the team. The one thing the squad does know about North Dakota State is that it plays a 4-4-2 lineup, the most common formation in soccer.

Unlike with North Dakota State, the Bears have experience playing against Hawaii. Led by a hat trick by star striker Alex Morgan, Cal battered the Wahine defense in the second half, scoring five goals. However, Sunday’s match will likely be considerably different, since the Wahine hired a new coach, Michele Nagamine.

Like Hawaii, Cal is also in a transition mode, adjusting to the void left by the senior Morgan. In the last two matches, the Bears have struggled to score goals, losing to Pepperdine, 2-1, and threading past San Diego State, 2-1, thanks to two late goals by senior Julie Benz and junior Lauren Battung.

“We have been practicing how to penetrate through the defense backline and creating scoring chances,” Benz said. “We need to be more fearless in front of the net.”

For the Bears, the ghost of Morgan — who scored nearly a third of the squad’s total goals last season — looms large over the team, demanding alternative ways for the team to score and win games.

One of the solutions that McGuire and the coaches are hoping for is the return of injured forwards Miranda White and Rachel Mercik.

Mercik, a sophomore, has shown promise in her first year with the team, starting four games and scoring two goals. White, a utility player for both defense and offense — will be able to provide experience alongside Benz and Battung in the attacking lines.

“White and Mercik are two players that suffered from long-term and short-term injuries that have come back,” McGuire said. “We haven’t had them enough of the field, so I want to give these two some quality playing time this weekend.”