Cal field hockey was shut out in its first match. Michigan State averaged .5 scores in its first two. So naturally, when the two met up at Underhill Field on Monday afternoon, it was a shootout for the ages. And in the second overtime period, it turned out the Spartans had the final bullet, and accordingly finished off a 5-4 win.
“I was really pretty calm through the whole thing,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “I felt like we were going to pull it out. I was super stoked that we battled back from being down two twice, and that’s a really good sign. It shows a lot of heart and a lot of belief on the team, which I’m very excited about.”
The Bears once again let a score through early, finding themselves unable to clear a ball that bounced around in front of the goal for a while before the Spartans’ Mackenzie Brown got her stick on it to open the scoring.
Full press defense from Michigan State initially had Cal’s player flummoxed and turning the ball over frequently, and the Spartans wasted no time in creating another opportunity, scoring off a corner just over five minutes into the game to take what seemed like a commanding 2-0 lead.
The Bears quickly found their offensive stride, setting up a few corners in the middle moments of the first half, but finding themselves unable to finish off their opportunities. It looked like it was simply going to be a day where Cal couldn’t capitalize on its opportunities when suddenly sophomore Gabby Jimenez and junior captain Melina Moore scored in quick succession. Jimenez, who was primarily making her impact on defense prior to her score, found herself in the right place for a deflection, and Moore slotted in a shot off penalty corner after struggling on four previous corners.
In the second half, the Spartans quickly turned the offensive aggression back on, taking five shots in the first eleven minutes, and the scoreboard was bound to eventually reflect that level of output. Freshman Natalie Dalton came in at goalie for sophomore Danielle Mentink at the half, and her extra aggressive style had mixed results; stopping some opportunities by coming far out of goal, but simultaneously allowing chip shot goals. Two goals in just over three minutes of game time gave the Spartans another two goal lead with just over twenty minutes remaining in the game.
“They’re really neck and neck in terms of what they bring to the field,” Onstead said. “They have slightly different styles, and I was excited to give (Dalton) a go. … It’s a risk reward thing. When you come out a lot of the time you’re going to get (the ball) because you surprise the player … but sometimes you’ll get burned if they manage to stick it by you.”
Coming back from one 2-goal deficit is generally tough enough in field hockey, but two can feel impossible. Unfazed, the Bears struck right back within two minutes, as sophomore Katrina Carter, who beautifully orchestrated the offense all day, found freshman Megan Rodgers near the goal for a simple score. The game fell into somewhat of a deadlock after that, but a yellowcard on Michigan State with seven minutes remaining gave the Bears the chance they needed. Cal cashed in quickly, scoring the equaliser with five minutes remaining of the stick of junior forward Janaye Sakkas, who had been valiantly defending Spartan corners throughout the day.
A quiet initial overtime period saw three Cal shots and a lone attempt for the Spartans, with neither team having much to show for it. But ten minutes into the second period, a penalty stroke gave the Spartans the game. For this shootout, at least, it didn’t matter who shot first, but who shot last.