The Cal field hockey team upset four ranked teams before earning a ranking of its own heading into this weekend’s matches.
But just as the No. 11 Bears were rising to national prominence, the team fell back down to earth a bit with its first defeat of the season, 1-3, at the hands of unranked Northwestern on Friday in Evanston, Ill.
However, Cal was able to salvage the weekend with a 4-3 comeback victory in overtime over No. 18 Virginia the next day at the same venue.
At Lakeside Field on Friday, the Bears (6-1) started their match against Northwestern (7-2) uncharacteristically sluggish, attempting only three shots to the Wildcats’ seven in the first period.
“We just weren’t ready to start the game,” coach Shellie Onstead said. “It really took us a while to get into the flow of things.”
Wildcat forward Chelsea Armstrong started off her tremendous weekend with a sliding goal past goalkeeper Maddie Hand to give Northwestern a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute. Her second goal of the match came less than 10 minutes later off a perfectly executed penalty corner by forward Regan Mooney.
The Bears began looking like themselves again in the second half. But by then, the deficit – along with Northwestern’s strong play – was too much for Cal to handle.
“Every team has its phase where it doesn’t perform to its potential,” senior forward Megan Shimojima said. “We recovered in the second half but it was too little too late.”
After their first loss of the season, the Bears had to quickly recover to face off the next day against Virginia, which started the season ranked No. 3 after a NCAA final four showing last year.
“The team had a good attitude after the first loss,” Onstead said. “They didn’t want to let it happen again and just wanted to get back to business.”
The Bears quickly got off to a 1-0 lead in the match before the Cavaliers rallied back and scored two unanswered goals before halftime.
In the second half, both teams’ defenses stepped up with more than 20 minutes of goal-less play. At the 56-minute mark, Cal was finally able to tie the game up, 2-2, with a goal by freshman forward Lara Kruggel.
Even with the Bears dominating control of the ball, Virginia forward Rachel Sumfest’s second goal of the game gave the Cavaliers a 3-2 nearly 10 minutes later.
With only a few minutes remaining, the Bears saw themselves trailing, 3-2, and on the verge of losing back-to-back games after going undefeated heading into the weekend.
“When they scored, a lot of teams would have packed it in,” Onstead said. “I called a time out, everyone took a deep breath and they were awesome. We had an opportunity in the form of a penalty corner and executed it perfectly.”
With 42 seconds remaining, forward Andrea Earle knocked in a shot off of the perfectly executed penalty corner for the nail-biting equalizer.
With the momentum clearly in the Bears’ favor, the team wasted no time as forward Lara Kruggel’s second goal of the match capped off the comeback less than two minutes into the extra period.
“The whole time there wasn’t any doubt that we would come back,” Shimojima said. “So we were definitely excited when it happened, but I wouldn’t say we were all that surprised.”