Cal lacrosse enters Pac-12 Tournament with No. 5 seed

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Lianne Frick /File

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New beginnings mean a clean slate for everyone, and the Pac-12’s first postseason tournament means just that for its six teams. As part of the Pac-12’s first season of lacrosse, all teams will qualify for the tournament, and No. 5 seed Cal lacrosse will be facing No. 4 seed Oregon in the first round Thursday.

“We’ve had a couple of really good practices these past couple of days,” said junior defender Kendall Swenson. “We knew we were playing Oregon kind of from the get-go after this past weekend. …(We’re) very familiar with the team; this is going to be the third time we’ve played them this season.”

The Bears and the Ducks have faced off twice already, with the series being split. Cal took the most recent game in Berkeley, 15-13, staving off Oregon’s late comeback effort.

In the win, redshirt sophomore attacker Kirsten Swanson showed out with five goals, while junior attacker Caroline Corzel recorded a hat trick.

The Bears finished fifth in the Pac-12 with a conference record of 2-8. The Ducks went 4-6, including a marquee win over No. 3 seed USC.

After Cal’s win over Oregon, each team has had similar endings to the regular season. They both lost games to Colorado and Stanford by a combined 17 and 18 goals for the Bears and Ducks, respectively. These losses, however, won’t mean much coming into this game between two familiar opponents.

Senior defender Meredith Haggerty brings leadership to Cal’s defense with her breakneck speed and her special ability to force turnovers, as her 18 on the season leads the team.

Redshirt senior defender Elizabeth Koehler’s work on the field has showed in her team-leading 74 draws and 39 ground balls, with the 74 draws in a single season as a program record. Expect Haggerty and Koehler to show out for the postseason, as they battle during their final minutes on the lacrosse field as Bears.

When it comes to scoring, Oregon’s squad is centered around three players — senior attacker Jill Zubillaga, junior attacker Shannon Williams and senior attacker Cambi Cukar. Zubillaga is second in the Pac-12 in average goals per game, while Cukar and Williams slot in with the first and third-most assists per game in the conference.

The winner of this matchup will play top-seeded host team Colorado, who will enjoy the benefit of a bye for the first round. The Buffaloes are nearly perfect in conference play, with their sole loss coming in a one-goal overtime road defeat to the Trojans.

Speaking of USC, the Trojans will play No. 6 seed Arizona State on the other side of the tournament bracket. The winner will advance to a duel with No. 2 Stanford, the only other squad with a bye in round one. The Cardinal’s only two conference losses have come against the Buffaloes, who seem to be a step ahead of the rest of the Pac-12.

Win or lose, the Bears will be playing for more than their season and their seniors.

“Just really harping on the fact that this could be our last game and basically playing for the seniors and knowing that we deserve to be in this tournament and basically proving to the other schools that we are…coming for them,” Swenson said.

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