In a surprising turn of events, the No. 19 Cal women’s soccer team experienced something no team ever wants: its star defender getting a red card in the third minute of play. Despite the energy and effort the Bears put into the game afterwards, they were always a step behind of Santa Clara. At the end of the day, they were unable come up with an equalizer and lost 2-1 to the Broncos in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
In the match’s opening minutes, Edwards Stadium was filled with cheers, and Cal had complete control of possession. Whatever spirit the team had, however, came to a crashing halt in the third minute, as senior defender Indigo Gibson was given a red card for a foul just outside of the 18-yard box.
The resulting free kick was well-placed over Cal’s wall by junior Gudrun Arnardottir and found the back of the net to give Santa Clara an early 1-0 lead. With the heart and soul of the Bears’ defense out for the remainder of the match, Cal had to transition to a different defensive scheme on the fly.
“You never expect to go a man down so quickly in a match,” said head coach Neil McGuire. “I think that all we wanted to do was be in a protectionary mode, so we went into (a formation of) four defenders, four midfielders and one striker, which is very common, just to deny the penetration centrally and force the game wide.”
Despite a change in formation, the Broncos had an edge on the Bears, and they dominated the midfield and stopped most of Cal’s offensive attacks. The Bears began to regain some lost energy, and they were able to generate a little more hustle on offense. In the 27th minute, redshirt senior Heather Walleigh was fouled inside of the Broncos’ box, and the referee awarded a penalty kick to Cal. Junior Miranda Nild stepped up to take the penalty and slammed it into the goal.
“I know a lot of girls get timid when they get in the box, and they just look at the goalkeeper for a long time, so I knew that’s what I didn’t want to do,” Nild said. “I turned around and talked to my teammate to calm me down, and I think that really really helped … and once I put (the ball) down, I knew, ‘Alright, this is going in.’ ”
In the second half, it was clear that the Bears had adapted to their 10-man team and were playing as usual. The patience on defense allowed them to slow down Santa Clara’s attacks and limit its shots, but it did not stop the far-post shot by freshman Kelsey Turnbow in the 65th minute, which put the Broncos ahead 2-1 — a lead they would hold on to, knocking Cal out of the playoffs.
“The fact that it was an incredibly competitive match shows the resiliency and the talent of our team,” McGuire said. “I’m very proud of the fight that they showed, and they are very proud of the program; They fight for themselves and their history, and I think the girls did an amazing job.”
This loss is an unfortunate way to end the season for a team that has put in a lot of effort and fought hard all fall. While the regular season ended in a three-game losing streak, there had been an expectation that Cal would go far in the tournament. Nevertheless, a loss isn’t the end of the world. The Bears showed off a lot of younger talent this season, and while they are losing six players, they’ll have many pieces to work with next year.
Sophie Durham covers women’s soccer. Contact her at