Cal women’s soccer to battle with pair of Pac-12 opponents

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Anissa Nishioka/File

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Down in the dumps and in need of a comeback, the Cal women’s soccer team (8-2-1, 1-1-1) hits the road this Thursday and Sunday to face off against Colorado (7-2-3, 1-1-1) and Utah (5-4-2, 0-2-1). The Bears have had a less-than-ideal start to conference play, and these games, which once seemed like easy wins, are now prizes that they must earn.

Thursday’s game against Colorado is a great opportunity for Cal to end their losing streak before it truly begins. Last season’s game against the Buffs didn’t favor the Bears, as they lost 3-2 in double overtime. Revenge should be an easy way to motivate a team out of a slump.

When Cal faced off against Colorado in Berkeley last fall, the game was a roller coaster. All 4 regular-time goals came in the second half, and the Bears found themselves down by 2 goals as the end of the game approached. With only three minutes remaining on the clock, then-freshman Maggie Bell and then-redshirt senior Ifeoma Onumonu both scored, pulling Cal neck and neck with Colorado and forcing the match it into golden goal overtime.

Just as it looked like the game would end in a draw, the Buffs managed to head the ball past then-junior keeper Emily Boyd and ended the match with a win, only two seconds before the double overtime buzzer.

“We were down 2-0 and we were fighting,” said senior Haley Lukas. “In the last two minutes, we were able to put away 2 (goals), which really showed the resilience of our team. Unfortunately, we lost on a goal in overtime, but I think that performance really showed what a strong team we are and the capabilities we have to come back from being down.”

This season, the Bears again seem evenly matched against Colorado. Freshman Marty Puketapu and sophomore Taylor Kornieck are the point players on offense for the Buffs with 5 goals each, while senior Becca Rasmussen leads Colorado with five assists.

Cal sophomore Abi Kim is keeping pace with most of the Buffs’ leaders, with 5 goals and 29 shots of her own, followed closely by junior Miranda Nild, who has 4 goals and 21 shots. But in pure aggressiveness, Kornieck blows everyone out of the water, with a total of 47 shots this season, putting her in second place in the Pac-12.

“I think that we’ve had a really strong week in practice,” Lukas said. “Today, we had a really good session, and we will be back out there again tomorrow. I think the biggest thing is just … looking forward to what we have to do this weekend and really figuring out the best ways to attack our opponents and come in with a fresh attitude.”

Eight conference games remain in the season, which are enough for the Bears to make a claim to the NCAA tournament. Cal, sitting in fifth place in the Pac-12, only has to place in the top six teams to make it. The opportunities are still there, but it’s up to the Bears to pick themselves up before it’s too late.

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