There’s little doubt that this season’s Cal field hockey team has been the most impressive of the past few years in both results and potential.
The No. 16 Bears (13-3) have achieved a number of accomplishments this season: their highest ranking in a decade, five victories over ranked opponents and coach Shellie Onstead’s 200th career victory to name a few.
Thursday night at 6:30 p.m, Cal will have an opportunity to add to this list as it kicks off the NorPac Tournament against Radford on Varsity Turf Field in Stanford, Calif.
When it comes down to it, the Bears’ failures in seasons past weren’t a result of regular season performance – it have been their inability to defeat one very familiar opponent when it mattered most.
In the past four seasons, the Bears have advanced to the finals of the NorPac Conference Tournament and in each instance, Stanford was waiting for them on the other side. In those four matches, Cal was shutout twice and was outscored 10-2, going home in defeat each time.
If the Bears want to believe that this season – this team – is different from those past teams, they’ll have their chance to prove it starting Thursday night.
Of course, they will have to get past Radford first, and as the old sports cliché goes, they’ll just have to take it one game at a time.
The Highlanders (7-11) finished third in the East Division of NorPac this season with a schedule consisting mostly of matchups with small, east coast schools with a lower level of competition. In its most significant matchup of the season, Radford visited then-No. 2 North Carolina and was defeated soundly, 7-0.
The Highlanders’ offense is headlined by senior forward Melissa Register, who leads the team with eight goals and 19 points on the season.
While the two teams don’t face each other in the regular season, Radford and Cal aren’t exactly unfamiliar foes.
In the past two NorPac tournaments, the Bears have faced the Highlanders on their way to the championship match. In 2009, Cal shutout Radford 3-0 in the semifinals and last season, the Bears squeaked out a 3-2 victory in the opening round.
The rest of the Bears’ bracket consists of Longwood (11-8) and division rival Pacific (3-12), who will matchup at 4 p.m. preceding the Cal-Radford game.
Like they have all season, the Bears will rely on their fast-paced offensive attack, led by sophomore forward Andrea Earle’s 15 goals and 35 points. Cal’s offense is one of the best in the nation, ranking first in their conference and eighth in the NCAA with 3.75 goals per game.
The Bears balance their offensive with the 23rd ranked defense in the nation (in average goals-against), led by two fifth-year seniors: defender Erin Magill and goalkeeper Maddie Hand.
On the other side of the bracket, Stanford will play Appalachian State while Davidson takes on UC Davis.
The No.6 Cardinal will once again be heavy favorites on their side of the bracket, as the combined win-total of the three other teams is only one more than the Cardinal’s 15 wins this season.