Cal field hockey prepares for tough weekend against two top-15 opponents

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Midterm season has yet to arrive, but the Cal field hockey team is scheduled for two tests this weekend that might make it seem like finals week. On Saturday and Sunday, Cal travels to Kentucky to face off against No. 2 North Carolina and the host team, No. 11 Louisville.

North Carolina (4-0) is a bona fide field hockey powerhouse. The Tar Heels have made it to at least the NCAA tournament semifinals in each of the past nine seasons and have reached the championship game six times in that span.

UNC is led by first-team All-American and reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year Ashley Hoffman, a senior midfielder and backfielder who leads the team with five goals in 2018. Sophomore goalkeeper Amanda Hendry also anchors a strong Tar Heel defense that has allowed just two goals this season.

Louisville (3-1) boasts a more balanced offensive attack. The Cardinals’ eight goals this season have been scored by seven different players, with freshman Erica Cooper and senior Katie Walsh leading the way — the former has scored two goals and the latter has notched three assists. The host team to the series of matches has experience competing in close games, as each of its four games this season has been decided by a single goal.

Cal enters the weekend at 2-1, and the team is led on offense by sophomore forward Megan Rodgers, who has scored four of the team’s six goals this season.

The Bears will seek to build on last Sunday’s hard-fought victory over Miami University in their tough weekend against the ACC. Last season, Cal went 6-3 after wins, and knocked off three top-25 teams in Stanford, UMass and Pacific.

Junior goalkeeper Danielle Mentink, who was named America East Defensive Player of the Week for her five-save shutout against Miami, believes her team has what it takes to compete against top teams.

“We know the speed and we know the pace,” Mentink said. “Our team has always done best after a big win, so I think we’re going to try to carry this momentum into next week’s games and just have some solid defense.”

Earlier this season, Cal faced off with then-No. 4 Maryland, and though the Bears fell 5-0, the team took away some lessons that they hope to apply this weekend.

“(We need) to take more advantage of setting the pace rather than responding to the pace,” said head coach Shellie Onstead. “We can use different tactics to do that so we don’t get caught up in this running up and down thing.”

This weekend will serve as a good early-season evaluation of how the Bears stack up against the nation’s best, but Onstead is nonetheless confident in her team. When asked what she hopes to get out of these games, she responded, “two wins.”

“We learned a lot about mental toughness, and just staying in it and never being done,” said freshman Brynn Zorilla. “Shellie’s been on us about that, (telling us,) ‘The play’s never over, just keep going the full 70.’ ”

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