Throughout its four-game slump in the last two weeks, the Cal women’s soccer team refused to acknowledge that it was in a mid-season crisis.
But after Sunday’s 2-0 win against USC, the Bears (9-3-2) were able to freely speak their minds with a sigh of relief.
“We were in a bit of a rut in the last two weeks,” forward Lauren Battung said. “We knew that this weekend was the crossroads of the season, and we could have either stepped up through adversity or collapsed under it.”
Cal stepped up huge this weekend as it pulled a huge 0-0 tie against No. 3 UCLA on Friday before its win two days later against the Trojans at Edwards Stadium. As the squad dives deeper into conference play, the weekend’s result can become that turning point that Battung referred to.
Although the Bears registered the lone win of the weekend against USC (3-10), they played their best soccer of the season against the Bruins.
Despite Cal not scoring any goals against UCLA (10-1-2), the team created several chances to score against one of the nation’s top defenses. The Bears had the best chances of the day when midfielder Taylor Comeau and Battung raced past the Bruins’ stonewall defense in the 50th and 89th minutes, respectively, before being stopped at the last moment.
Although the highly energetic and aggressive Cal offense fell short of creating a goal, the defense shut down the lethal UCLA forwards and handed the Bruins their first shutout of the season. After allowing six goals in the last three contests, the defense neutralized UCLA’s All-American Sydney Leroux as an offensive threat throughout the tilt.
“Our defensive pressure higher up the field was much better against UCLA,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said. “Our midfielders were playing tighter defense too, so it wasn’t necessarily only the defenders that did all the work.”
Riding the momentum from Friday’s draw to Sunday, the Bears had more confidence and flair to their play against the Trojans. Despite the goal opportunities created by midfield playmakers Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick and Betsy Hassett, Cal was not able to score in the first half.
But in the 49th minute, forward Rachel Mercik finally put an end to the 286-minute goal drought when she headed the ball in from Fitzpatrick’s corner kick, cementing her newfound role as the leading striker after star Katie Benz’s injury. Ten minutes later, Comeau scored her first goal of her Cal career when she rocketed a missed corner kick from outside the penalty box.
“I’m immensely proud of Rachel,” McGuire said. “She battled back from a serious surgery and was out for eight months. I’m so happy to see her reap the rewards of her comeback.”