As the PA announcer began counting down the end of the first half, Cal forward Grace Leer, who already scored two goals, was powering down the left wing with the ball.
At the count of 10, she bullied past the last San Jose State defender. By six, she coolly placed the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net, finishing her first hat-trick as a Golden Bear.
Leer’s goal was a fitting touch to one of the wildest first halves the Cal women’s soccer team (2-0) will see all season. After being down 2-1 to the Spartans (0-1-1), the Bears tallied four consecutive goals — three in the last four minutes of the first half — for a sound 5-2 score.
Despite Cal starting the match by dictating the pace with short, quick passes, San Jose State drew first blood in the 10th minute. The Cal defenders simply couldn’t clear the ball outside the penalty box after a corner kick, and when the ball landed about five yards in front of goal, Cheryl Kute whacked the ball past goalkeeper Emily Kruger for the easy score.
Leer tied the game in the 22nd minute, but the Bears fell behind the Spartans by an even more stunning goal ten minutes later. About 30 yards from the goal, midfielder Megan Molina shot a seemingly innocuous free kick that swerved its way past Kruger and into the net.
“The hard field, the positioning of the goalkeeper, and the wind all played into the goal,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said. “The team played well, but there are things we’ll learn and improve from.”
Cal responded with its own free kick goal in the 41st minute. Defender Thelma Einarsdottir, who scored a similar free kick goal against USF last year, curved a beautiful shot right past San Jose State goalkeeper Zoe Makrigiannis.
Twenty-odd seconds later, Leer scored her second thanks to freshman Samantha Witteman’s cross from the right wing. Although the Spartan players huddled together for an emergency meeting right after the goal, it was all for naught as Leer chalked the fourth goal for Cal three minutes later.
In a match filled with goalscorers, the most outstanding player by far was midfielder Betsy Hassett. Hassett, who participated in the London Olympics with the New Zealand national soccer team, was a notch above all, her first touch softer and passes deadlier than the other twenty-one players.
“As a senior, I needed to step my game up,” Hassett said. “The Olympics helped me adjust to the speed of the game and grow my confidence.”
“Betsy’s a world-class player,” McGuire said. “With experience in international play at the Olympics and the World Cup, the collegiate game is slower and easier for her.”
With the Bears holding a comfortable 4-2 lead in the second half, veterans like Hassett made way for the underclassmen corps to preserve the lead. Although the game became rougher and slower, Cal extended its lead with a lone goal by freshman Ifeoma Onumonu in the 55th minute.
“There is no thing as a perfect game for the freshmen players,” McGuire said. “But compared to years past, this group of freshmen are understanding our system a lot faster.”
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