Surging Cal takes strong current to Pacific

No matter what happens this Sunday, when the Cal field hockey team visits Pacific, it still might feel like a letdown compared to last weekend’s results.

Behind sophomore forward Jordan O’Reilly’s two-goal performance, the Bears were able to overtake No. 13 Michigan State, 4-3, in overtime this past Sunday. This came one day after Cal went on the road and defeated No. 16 Louisville, 3-1.

These two wins proved to the Bears (2-0) and the rest of the country that they have the talent to match up with some of the best teams in the NCAA.

This weekend, Cal hopes to ride its momentum into NorPac conference play, when it takes on the unranked Tigers at 1 p.m.

Pacific (0-1) is coming off a disappointing 2-16 season but will likely be much improved given that last year’s team was mostly comprised of underclassmen. In its first match of the season, the Tigers fell to UC Davis by a score of 3-1. With their current performance, the Bears are expected to take care of business against Pacific, one of the weaker teams in the NorPac West conference.

However, even with all the positives signs and a weaker opponent, coach Shellie Onstead sees this upcoming game as an opportunity for growth and improvement.

“Our attack did a really nice job of converting opportunities once we were inside the attacking zone and that’s given them a lot of confidence,” said the 17-year head coach. “(But) we still have to work on our defensive organization and we’re going to have to make sure we make some mental adjustments just based on the surface.”

That surface is referring to the natural grass used at Pacific’s Brookside Field. Cal is used to playing on an artificial surface — like the one at Maxwell Field and most schools across the country — which allows for the quicker pace that the Bears are accustomed to due to their speed and athleticism. The long, natural grass causes the ball to quickly lose speed and might prove to be an “equalizer” between two unevenly matched teams, according to Onstead.

Cal has typically performed well against this Pacific team. Last season, the Bears defeated the Tigers three times, including one preseason stint, with a combined score of 7-0. Then-junior goalkeeper Maddie Hand collected five saves in the two regular season victories, leading Cal to two impressive shutouts.

Each conference matchup will be crucial for the Bears if they hope to improve on their No. 2 seeding from last season’s NorPac tournament. Last year, Cal finished 5-1 in conference play, good enough to tie for the regular season championship with Stanford. With the Cardinal once again fielding a strong team, a Bears loss in inter-conference play would be extremely detrimental to their chances of winning the regular season championship outright.

With a new NFHCA Coaches Poll coming out next week, the Bears need to show that they can win the matches they are supposed to. A loss would likely tarnish the legitimacy of their first two victories.