No. 11 Cal women’s soccer looks to extend winning streak to 7 against Arizona State

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Anissa Nishioka/File

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Like a plane taking off for flight, the No. 11 Cal women’s soccer team’s (8-1-0, 1-0 Pac-12) ascent has been steep and steady. With a smooth takeoff, the Bears began the season with two wins before hitting a patch of turbulence in their third game, a 1-0 loss to San Francisco. Since then, though, the plane has steadied, weathering every bump and cruising to a six-game winning streak. This Thursday’s home matchup against Arizona State (4-4-1, 1-0-0 Pac-12), however, will test whether Cal is still climbing or if it has reached its cruising altitude.

The Bears’ matchup against the Sun Devils will be their second conference game of the season, after a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Washington. Five of Cal’s eight victories have come by a 1-goal margin, and all of those clinching goals came in the second half. This doesn’t seem to be due to a lack of first-half offensive gusto, but more an increased ability to execute once the Bears know it’s crunch time.

“We know we are good with the ball at our feet, so we need to keep pushing that, and I think we have even more good to come,” said senior midfielder Guro Bergsvand.

Like Cal, Arizona State is coming off of their first conference victory (against Oregon State). And while the Sun Devils’ season has experienced a bit more turbulence than the Bears’, there’s no doubt that Arizona State has the capability to also reach a high peak.

The Sun Devils’ 2-1 victory against the Beavers is an indication of what they’re capable of — firing 18 shots, 10 of which were on frame, through the course of the 90 minutes. While only two of those made it into the back of the net, they constantly tested Oregon State’s goalie, forcing her off her line and into the air. If Arizona State is able to put up a similar plenitude of shots on Thursday, senior goalkeeper Emily Boyd will no longer be sitting comfortably in the back, as has been the case for much of the season.

But with the ninth-best defense in regard to goals-against percentage, it’s likely that the Bears’ back line will be one of the best that the Sun Devils have seen so far this year. Led by seniors Indigo Gibson and Haley Lukas, Cal has a highly organized and composed defensive unit, capable of staying calm in even the most dire of situations.

The Bears’ offense, too, is nothing to shrug off. Cal has seen consistent offensive production from a wide range of players — nine Bears have contributed to the 15 total goals compiled by the team this season. Cal’s creativity and ability to move off of the ball in the offensive third has been stellar, and if it is able to continue that type of play, then it should have no trouble continuing its upward trajectory.

“Our biggest challenge has been that we’re a pretty soccer team, we like to play the nice game, but we need to realize that we need to win the physical battle too and step up our challenge game and win those second balls,” Bergsvand said.

At this point, the Bears have little more to prove — they have shown an ability to beat opponents of all skill levels in a myriad of conferences. The only part left is to make it clear that they aren’t done climbing.

Sophie Durham covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].