No. 19 Cal women’s soccer kicks off playoffs against Santa Clara

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Anissa Nishioka/File

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The first round has been announced, and it’s official: The No. 19 Cal women’s soccer team (13-5-1, 6-4-1 Pac-12) will open its NCAA tournament run against Santa Clara (13-6-1, 8-1 WCC) on Saturday at Edwards Stadium. After finishing fifth in the Pac-12, the Bears qualified for the tournament for their 14th consecutive season and 25th time overall, tying for fifth-most by any Division I women’s soccer team.

This will be the second meeting between the Broncos and the Bears this season and the sixth post-season encounter. The first matchup, Cal’s second game of the season, resulted in a 2-1 win for the Bears with goals from sophomore Abi Kim and redshirt senior Kelly Fitzgerald. The last time the teams faced off in the NCAA tournament was in the first round in 2013, when Santa Clara beat Cal 2-1.

“I think we are really excited,” said senior Indigo Gibson. “Obviously for me, it’s a cool four years in a row, and we’ve been in the tournament pretty consistently, so it’s exciting. (As for Santa Clara), it is a huge rivalry for us. We are pretty excited to play them, but we take it every weekend (at a time), and every team we play so it will be a good game, like always.”

The Bears’ defense has carried the team all season. It ranks 10th in the nation with a 0.465 goals-against average and is one of three Division I teams that has held its opponents to one goal or less in every match this fall.

Senior goalkeeper Emily Boyd has continued to break records all season long. Her most recent accomplishment was being named the Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year, which is a first for the Cal women’s soccer program. Boyd was the only non-Stanford player to win an All-Conference award.

Boyd and Gibson have anchored the Bears on the defensive line all season and were named to the All-Conference first team while freshman Emily Smith, freshman Luca Deza, Kim and Fitzgerald were named to subsequent All-Conference teams.

“I’m pretty proud of being placed on the first team,” Gibson said. “Obviously Emily (Boyd) had a huge award this week, so it’s been good for us. Our team did stuff pretty well, and it’s shown pretty well, so it’s been a good group effort, and it’s a good accomplishment for all of us.”

Despite a rocky start to the fall, Santa Clara finished the season strong with a seven-game winning streak and placed second behind Pepperdine in the West Coast Conference. The Broncos have scored 46 goals this season — the most in the WCC — and freshman Kelsey Turnbow leads the team with 12 goals.

While the previous matchup between Cal and Santa Clara this season may have been close, the Bears have only improved since then. They found their footing and established a strong defense and a system on offense that generates goals. Cal has transformed into an aggressive and adaptable team that was able to hold the No. 1 team in the country, with the No. 1 offense, to only one goal. With this intensity, nothing should stop them from winning.

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

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