Cal field hockey flew out to the East Coast needing to prove it could start converting on its shot opportunities. The Bears have consistently outshot opponents, but the goals hadn’t been there, outside of a shootout loss to Michigan State at home. In a blowout 8-0 win over Bryant University and a 2-1 victory over Northeastern, Cal showed the offensive chops necessary to thrive through the rest of the season.
“To generate that many goals is always a good confidence-builder, but I think you have to be careful about overreacting,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. So yes, it’s useful, but a year ago, if I’m comparing, we struggled with a team like (Bryant), that I thought we should have dominated, so it’s a good sign that we’re converting where we should be. It’s building blocks, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Half of the Bears’ goals came off the stick of freshman Megan Rodgers, who put up a hat trick in the first game of the weekend and was responsible for both scores against Northeastern. The young player came in with great promise, but even the most optimistic projections likely wouldn’t have had her producing this much this early.
“I think she’s just getting comfortable,” Onstead said. “I knew she’d be a dangerous player, and it’s just a matter of her finding her groove. If she plays free, she’s got a great attitude and doesn’t seem to get bothered; if she makes a mistake, she just keeps at it, and i think that’s good for everyone. She just lets her talent do its thing.”
The Bryant Bulldogs were simply outclassed at home — Cal led in total shots by nearly 20 and in shots on goal by nearly 15. A 10-3 lead in corners just added insult to injury. Bears up and down the lineup got in on the action in the blowout, which was Cal’s biggest win in six years. A team with this much pent-up offense didn’t take it easy late in the game either, scoring 4 goals in the last 11 minutes of game time.
Northeastern was a much more evenly matched foe; the Huskies even scored a dramatic win in Berkeley last season in the Bears’ first match. But like a service break in tennis, a win on the road only counts if you can hold serve at home, and the Bears managed to even the series this time around.
The game was scoreless in the first half, but Cal took 10 more shots than its opponent. It looked to be another case of unused opportunities, but Rodgers scored 2 goals within two minutes midway through the second half, giving the Bears their decisive lead.
The 2-0 lead prompted an empty net for Northeastern and more aggressive offense. The Huskies eventually took the lead in shots on goal, but the Bears clamped down on defense and sophomore goalkeeper Danielle Mentink recorded 12 saves.
“(Taking the goalie out) does create pressure, and what’s pleasing to us is our defense held and kept their cool even though there’s an extra man on the field,” Onstead said. “(Mentink) is an instinctual player. It’s the cliché of, ‘Don’t get too much in your head.’ She’s very instinctive and reactive, and she did what she had to do to keep the ball out.”
Cal’s fortunes have been inconsistent this season: Playing No. 5 Syracuse tight led to defensive miscues in the team’s next loss to Michigan State. Upsetting UMass with timely goals gave way to being shut out by Iowa. But going on the road and coming away with decisive wins certainly has the chance to redefine the Bears’ season and get them on the right path.
“It’s perfect now, coming into a home weekend and a big conference game, so as far as how we scheduled the first six games, I’m very happy,” Onstead said. “I think the reaction from the group right now is that they wish they could have Michigan State and Iowa back and they’d have a different attitude.”