Pushing all of its chips to the center of the table, the Cal field hockey team will embark Wednesday on its season’s most crucial slate of games. Sitting ever so precariously in second place in the West division, the Bears will square off in an untraditional weekday series against Pacific and UC Davis on Wednesday and Friday, respectively, doing their best to finish strong in what has been an equally untraditional regular season.
With the America East Championships set to begin Nov. 5, this week’s games are the last chance for Cal to improve its conference standing and ease its road to the NCAA tournament. Win both games, and the Bears will be atop the division. Lose one or both, and they’re likely looking at third place.
On Wednesday, the Bears will line up against the Tigers in a contest between the two teams currently vying for the division’s throne. Both teams enter the game with matching 3-1 interdivision records, and the team that loses and falls to 3-2 will immediately have a tougher hill to climb. Cal and Pacific play one final divisional game Friday, with the Bears playing Davis and the Tigers taking on Stanford.
Even though Pacific is an all-too-familiar threat to the Bears, the teams will enter Wednesday on much different trajectories. Cal, who was leading the division for much of the season, has recently fallen, with its current three-game losing streak knocking it down a few pegs. Pacific has experienced a meteoritic rise after winning eight of its last 11 and recently vanquishing the Cardinal and UC Davis in back-to-back games. Suddenly, the division’s season-long little brother holds the lead with two games left.
The team that wins Wednesday will certainly maintain the inside track to the division’s highest seed — but it will likely take two consecutive victories from either Cal or Pacific to keep the fast-rising Cardinal out of the top spot.
Although the Bears are undefeated on the season against its two upcoming foes, both its previous victories came in 1-0 nailbiters. The margin of error was miniscule in those games, and with so much on the line, will likely be nonexistent in these final conference matchups.
The following game against UC Davis on Friday will be a must-win for one of two reasons. Either Cal beat Pacific on Wednesday and will need to top Davis again to keep Stanford off its tail, or the Bears lose to the Tigers and will fight to keep pace with the Cardinal for second place. Either way, the Aggies stand as a deceptively competitive team, and Friday’s contest is a trap game that the Bears desperately need to win. Despite its 0-5 record in division play, UC Davis matches up well with Cal because of their similar styles of play. Both teams err on the side of conservatism, and win only when they can keep scores low enough for their offense to take it with a lucky goal or two.
Cal must be extra wary of playing a team with nothing to lose, and everything to gain with an upset win. The Aggies would like nothing more than to spoil the Bears’ promising season, and force them to play much tougher matchups in the upcoming America East Tournament.
Austin Isaacsohn covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected].