Cal lacrosse makes MPSF tournament, to face Stanford

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Rebecca Lee/File

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Against all odds, the Cal lacrosse team has qualified for the MPSF tournament. Having won only two games headed into the playoff push, it seemed as if the Bears (5-12) were doomed from the start. But their perseverance and steady improvement turned the odds in their favor, and they breezed through their final conference games, which pushed them into the tournament.

“I think it’s just about timing,” said Cal head coach Brooke Eubanks. “This is my third season here so I think it’s taken a little bit of time for us to, for lack of a better word, get used to each other. The players are really understanding the system and expectations, and I think it just was a matter of time before we started making progress forward. There was a lot of behind the scenes things that we had to work on, and those things are starting to now make an impact on the field.”

The first challenge for the Bears will be facing Bay Area rival Stanford (11-5) on Thursday. When the teams last met less than two weeks ago, the Cardinal pulled out a hardfought win, 15-12.

In the game, Cal managed to hold the lead until late in the first half, a surprising start for the underdog team. Even after falling behind, the Bears weren’t willing to give up. In the second half the players fought even harder than before, pushing themselves more than they had all season. Sophomore Caroline Corzel was the most valuable player of the match– she was the leader on offense and netted four goals, the high of the game for Cal. At that point, the Bears were still in qualification mode. Although they didn’t win, it was a clear sign that they had what it takes to crash the tournament.

The last time the Bears qualified for the conference tournament was in 2013, back when the MPSF only took the top-four teams from the conference, rather than the current six. As third seed, Cal faced second-seeded Stanford and lost, 16-6. The Cardinal then went on to lose in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and the Bears suffered a three-year post-season drought until now. The game Thursday is a rematch within a rematch, and there is no doubt Cal is looking for redemption.

“I think the mentality of ‘anything can happen in playoffs’ is an important piece,” Eubanks said. “It’s different with playoffs because you are playing teams that you’ve already played, so it’s kind of nice to watch because you can reflect on what you did, the things you want to continue to do and the adjustments you need to make. So we are starting that process now, of analyzing film and really coming up with a game plan. It’s really just one game at a time, focusing on this next game, and hopefully we have more to come after that.

In order to beat Stanford, the Bears will have to play better than they have all year, but considering the last matchup, the improvement may only need to be marginal. They must challenge the Cardinal in speed, toughness and accuracy, and they need to stay strong on defense to keep Stanford from scoring. If Cal can face the Cardinal with the same intensity as the last time they played, then this match will definitely be one for the books.

Sophie Durham covers lacrosse. Contact her at [email protected].

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