A single loss may be a fluke — but two in a row is cause for concern. For a Cal field hockey team that’s on the brink of clinching first place in its division, the weekend’s losses to Kent State and Ohio State could spell disaster for its postseason aspirations.
The 5-2 and 6-3 defeats undermined the team’s proud defensive unit and highlighted its insufficiencies on the offensive end. For a young team scrambling for its bearings after a three-game losing streak that dropped it to 9-7, this weekend could signal impending catastrophe. The Bears find themselves at yet another crossroad in their up-and-down season, and their future will be shaped by the mindset they adopt in the weeks to come.
“We had a great weekend. We had two really awesome practices and learned a lot,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “We’re a farther team than when we left town. I think we got all we could ask for out of the weekend.”
The Bears and their coach know that much of the misfortune they found this weekend wasn’t due to subpar preparation or incapable players but to the difficult circumstances that surround them and fixable mistakes.
Cal fell victim to its usual misnamed “home-field advantage,” as its match Saturday against Kent State in Columbus, Ohio, was designated as a home game. But a new problem plagued Cal — injuries. The team played much of Saturday’s game and all of Sunday’s without its two captains. Senior defender Clara Goni got hurt against the Golden Eagles, and junior midfielder Monica Marrazzo has been hurt since last week’s loss to Stanford.
“(Goni and Marrazzo) are really the center and heart of our alignment,” Onstead said.
The good news for Cal is that both players are day to day and resting with the hope of an America East Tournament return in their sights. Their presence will be missed moving forward, as the team seemed to fall flat after the injury to Goni on Saturday.
Kent State jumped on the Bears first, going up, 1-0, in the 22nd minute. Despite a Cal advantage in the main offensive categories in the first half — 7-5 shot differential, 3-1 in corners — the game went to halftime with with the Golden Eagles still owning the only goal. The Bears retook the lead just after halftime with two quick goals and, for a moment, seemed back in control. This has been their game plan every contest: get up, then get back. Their usual defensive strategy didn’t succeed, however, as Kent State scored the equalizer just more than two minutes later.
Goni would go down soon after the goal, suddenly leaving a young Bears team to fight for the win after losing two captains in as many games. The inexperience showed, as Kent State rattled off another three goals to claim the victory.
The Ohio State matchup the following afternoon would prove just as competitive but was still plagued by the unfortunate circumstances of the previous game. It was Senior Day for the Buckeyes, and senior forward Peanut Johnson celebrated in style, racking up a hat trick against the leaderless Cal defense. The game was put out of reach early, as Ohio State would go into halftime with a 3-0 lead, but from that point on was much more competitive, with both teams scoring three goals apiece in the second period.
Despite the losses, the Bears continue to look to the future with confidence. Cal is undefeated this season against the two teams it will play to end the regular season. Not to mention that obvious advantage the Bears hold in the America East Tournament, where every game is played at a neutral sight. Playing tough on the road has been the Bears’ calling card this year — whether chosen or not — and the team’s mental fortitude may soon pay huge dividends.
“The road-warrior thing is going to start playing in our favor, because other teams just aren’t used to that adversity,” Onstead said.
Austin Isaacsohn covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected].