Cal women’s soccer team (12-6-2, 5-4-2 in the Pac-12) earned a berth to the NCAA tournament for the eighth consecutive year at No. 7 Santa Clara. The match against the Broncos (13-2-5) will be held on Saturday at 2 p.m at Buck Shaw Stadium.
So, We Meet Again
Because of the two schools’ proximity, Santa Clara and the Bears have played against each other in the first round of the NCAA tournament in the past. The last time the two teams played against each other in the NCAA tournament was in 2007, when then-No. 11 Cal defeated the Broncos, 2-0, at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium in Stanford, Calif.
The most recent match against Santa Clara on September 25 became known as the match where star striker Katie Benz broke her leg in the 62nd minute. Without Benz, the then-No. 17 Bears were hapless against the Broncos, losing 3-0.
Since her injury, Benz has become the rallying point for the squad this season. Now that the path has come to a full circle, Cal wants to make sure that any loss to the Broncos would not happen again.
“A lot of the players want to dedicate this game for Benz,” midfielder Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick said. “We want to beat them for her.”
Staying in the Zone
For four of the last five years, the Bears had to travel to Florida to play their first game of the tournament. But now that this year’s first round is about an hour away by driving, the Bears feels more at ease playing against their opponent.
“Flying to Florida means that you are dealing with an entirely different climate and time zones,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said. “The match against Santa Clara allows us to maintain our usual week schedule.”
Bucking the Bronco
Amongst the Cal players, Santa Clara is known to be one of the most scrappy — even borderline dirty by some — team that they have faced throughout the season. Alongside their high-energy defensive approach, the Broncos are also an effective offensive side, amassing 40 goals in the season.
Midfielder Julie Johnston, who leads the team with nine goals, is the key player to watch out for the Bears. The sophomore scored two goals in the Broncos’ last outing against Cal and has improved ever since. It would be up to central midfielders like Fitzpatrick and freshman Taylor Comeau to contain Johnston.
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