Cal lacrosse opens season with close matches against UC Davis, San Diego State

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Joshua Jordan/File

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Collegiate lacrosse is a war of attrition. Taking into account the two 30-minute halves and plenty of stoppage time played on a full football field, it’s critical for a team to stay focused even as the fatigue sets in.

Over the weekend, Cal had its first battles of the season against UC Davis and San Diego State. Earning a close win and a close loss, respectively, the Bears sometimes seemed to fall into cycles of rally and retreat.

“The thing that we need to work on, reflecting from the weekend, is our consistency,” said Cal head coach Brooke Eubanks. “We kinda went into some lulls in the game, and we were making the same mistakes over and over again.”

This early in the season, every game is rich in teaching potential and new discoveries are still surfacing.

Redshirt sophomore Eliza Christman, for one, has already reached her season goal total of five from last season only two games into the season. The midfielder from Connecticut may finally be capturing her potential after missing most of her true freshman season to injury and having a relatively quiet redshirt freshman season.

On the other hand, sophomore Susie Ropp, an established scorer for the Bears, has had a slower start. Of all the returners, she is the leading scorer but has yet to find the back of the net. It’s hard to work up much worry based on two games, but it’ll be important for her to continue the prolific career she began as a freshman as the season continues.

On Friday afternoon, Cal faced a familiar opponent in UC Davis. In UC Davis’ home opener, the Aggies played tug-of-war with the Bears over the lead for the entire first half, which wrapped up in favor of Cal, 6-5.

At the start of the second half, the Bears came out swinging. They scored five straight goals and had appeared to have put away their opponents.

But refusing to be blown out on their home turf, the Aggies put together their own rally to complete the game on a 3-0 run. Cal ultimately prevailed, however, and secured an 11-9 road win.

In their second game, Cal played host to San Diego State. The two schools have a history of determining their matchups in the final possession. Including the weekend’s game against the Aztecs, the last three meetings between the schools have been determined by a single goal.

Early on, the Bears seemed ready to break their annual convention. Propelled by scoring on 3 of 3 free position shots, Cal went up 5-2 early into the half. The Bears’ defense had the Aztecs frazzled, forcing quick possessions capped by hasty shot selection. On the other side of the field, Cal’s offense methodically prodded SDSU’s defense.

Yet that would be the extent of offensive production for Cal’s first half. The Aztecs scored 4 unanswered points and led 6-5 at the half. Once settled in, their offense could do no wrong, exploiting unsuccessful Cal double teams and consistently pressuring the Bears near the goal.

Halftime adjustments initially slowed the bleeding for the Bears, who struck first in the second period. But the Aztecs responded with two more goals and earned morale victories with studly defensive stands thanks to the sure-handed Katy Sharetts, the Aztec junior goalkeeper.

Still, Cal did not lose hope.

Down 7-10 with 12 minutes remaining, the Bears called a timeout. Redshirt senior Elizabeth Koehler took over the huddle with a fiery message.

“(At that point), I think that we were just beating ourselves,” Koehler said. “I just brought everyone in and told them, ‘We know what we need to do and what we need to execute.’”

Cal came roaring out of the timeout, catapulting a 4-1 run and setting up a tied game with two minutes remaining.

But just as overtime seemed certain, the Bears’ defense gave up a free position shot with 28 seconds remaining. Aztec junior Harlowe Steele took the penalty and bulged out the net for her third goal of the day in the waning seconds of the match. Steele’s efforts pushed the final score to 11-12.

The Aztecs-Bears dramatic saga lives on.

Armen Aprahamian covers lacrosse. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @armnhammer_.