Cal field hockey exited the locker room and onto the turf of Underhill Field on Friday night not with a universal stone face or stiff body language, but with a free and easy attitude comparable to a Sunday walk in the park.
Before beginning their official warm-ups, Bears got loose in unique manners, kicking around a soccer ball, tossing around a frisbee and playing with a football. Smiles and laughs weren’t hard to find, both from the players and the coaching staff. If not for No. 22 UMass’ robotic warm-up regimen on the other side of the field, the casual observer may have had difficulty differentiating whether or not Cal had a game.
Once the Bears stepped on the field under the Friday night lights, however, the demeanor changed. Cal was relentless in putting pressure on the UMass defense for the majority of the match, pushing the opposition’s collective backs against the wall minute after minute. The smiles and laughs did eventually return for the Bears some 70 minutes later, smiles and laughs which couldn’t be contained in the aftermath of their 2-1 win.
Fans of Cal didn’t have much to cheer for early on as UMass, which scored a combined ten goals in its first two games of the season, struck first in the match’s early minutes. Only two minutes into regulation, UMass freshman forward Lucy Cooper fired a shot right past Cal sophomore goalkeeper Danielle Mentink to give the Minutewomen an early 1-0 lead.
Cooper’s goal marked the third straight game in which the Bears allowed a goal within the first five minutes of a match. Against an opponent of UMass’ caliber, the early goal didn’t bode well for Cal’s chance of an upset. Instead, the goal seemed to be a splash of water to the face of the Bears, and the tone of the match quickly shifted.
For Cal, defense came in the form of a hyper aggressive offense as the ball was on UMass’ side of the field for a majority of regulation. The Bears didn’t waste their time in enemy territory and were quick to strike back when sophomore Katrina Carter notched the game up at one apiece on an assist from senior Mara Gutierrez, both of which were their respective firsts of the season.
Cal’s maintained its attack for the rest of the first half albeit to no avail, but finally broke through five minutes into the second half when freshman Megan Rodgers swept a goal into the back of the net, giving her team the lead and eventual final score of 2-1, a big moment for the talented newcomer.
The Bears’ aggressiveness was apparent in the stat sheet as they finished the match with 20 shots and eight corners, compared to the Minutewomen’s nine shots and lone corner.
Cal couldn’t replicate the same level of aggressiveness against No. 17 Iowa and its stringent defense, dropping the second of its two weekend matches 3-0.
The Bears managed to get off seven shots on goal, but the squad learned firsthand why the Hawkeyes have earned a reputation as a defensive powerhouse as Iowa senior goalkeeper Katie Jones inhaled every offensive attack the Cal offense threw at her.
Cal only allowed three shots on goal on the defensive end, but Iowa efficiently netted all three tries en route to its first win of the season. It’s been nearly impossible to get a beat on this Bears squad in an up-and-down season so far — consistency will be the key going forward.