Defense shines as Cal field hockey wins nail-biter over Miami, 1-0

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Michael Wan/File

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The sun finally came out this weekend, and at Underhill Field, Cal field hockey turned up the heat up even more in a physical game against Miami (Ohio), winning 1-0 to move to 2-1 on the season.

After an up-and-down opening weekend in which they were on both the winning and losing end of blowouts, the Bears prevailed in their first close game of the year. In the 59th minute, sophomore forward Megan Rodgers broke free after receiving a long pass, and after multiple saves, Rodgers recovered the rebound and put a reverse shot into the back of the net.

The Labor Day weekend brought both fan bases out, and the mood was fiery the entire afternoon. Fans from both sides egged their teams on while protesting officials’ calls, and the energy percolated onto the field: In the first half, Miami was issued two green cards and one yellow card, which are two and five minute suspensions, respectively.

The intensity from both sides resulted in back-and-forth play in the early going, with neither team getting many opportunities. Cal and Miami both took just two shots each in the first half, as strong defensive efforts and high levels of physicality prevented either team from generating any consistent offense.

“There was a lot of frustration, not getting opportunities,” said head coach Shellie Onstead. “This game can be physical, and every team plays differently, and that’s kind of a style thing, and they just have to make sure they don’t get sucked into it.”

With the game scoreless in the 51st minute, Onstead called a timeout to allow her side to regroup mentally. The message was “just reminding them that they were good enough to solve the puzzle,” Onstead said. “(Miami was) bringing extra pressure, and in a game if they’re going to spend more here, there’s a solution over there, and I just wanted them to calm down and think it through.”

Cal did think it through, and eight minutes later, Rodgers scored the go-ahead goal for her fourth of the season.

The RedHawks put up a fight in the second half, and though they created good opportunities, the Bears’ defense held up. Junior goalie Danielle Mentink made five saves for her first shutout of the season, highlighted by a great block of a Miami penalty corner early in the second half to keep the game scoreless.

“While everybody was out celebrating our huge football win, we were down here practicing,” Mentink said. “[We] had an extra goalie session, and I think that really led to me being on my toes and being ready for each circle penetration.”

Freshman Brynn Zorilla also continued to impress, disrupting Miami’s offense with multiple steals when defending on-ball, while also showing off her ball-handling skills. One particularly nice sleight-of-hand spin move allowed her to split two defenders and set up a shot opportunity.

“I think I’ve really just been able to connect with my teammates better,” Zorilla said. “I can find out their skill sets and what they like — whether they like a pass on a certain spot or not — so (I am) able to feed into what they like and connect with them.”

The experience of winning a close game over a solid Miami team will undoubtedly give Cal more confidence going forward, and Onstead is excited to see her team’s growth.

“I think that was our first real test of mental toughness,” Onstead said. “It’s nice to have it in game three, and we did really well. I would say that’s not necessarily been our trademark in the past, so I’m stoked to see that.”

Tim Sun covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected].