For one second, let’s just put aside all the implications that come with any traditional Cal-Stanford matchup and look objectively at the significance of this Friday’s 7 p.m. game at the Cardinal’s Varsity Turf.
It could be said that the respective field hockey programs for the No. 8 Cardinal and the No. 12 Bears (7-1, 1-0 in NorPac) are currently at their historical peaks.
Stanford (6-1, 1-0) hasn’t had a ranking this high since 1987. Similarly, the Bears’ No. 11 ranking from last week was their highest since the NFHCA poll started in 1998; Cal’s 5-0 start was its best in almost 30 years.
These two teams also represent the rising tide of West Coast field hockey in a sport traditionally dominated by East Coast schools. The Bears and the Cardinal are the only two teams west of the central time zone represented in the top 20 polls – with Iowa being the next closest.
Of course, then we add to the mix a centuries-old rivalry, Stanford’s two victories over the Bears in consecutive NorPac Tournament finals and suddenly this turns into Cal’s most significant match of the season — a season in which they’ve already played and defeated five ranked teams.
“Any big game has significance and we’ve always honored the rivalry through the years,” coach Shellie Onstead said, something she learned as an All-American for the Bears in the early ’80s.
“When I was here playing, the coaches would always put some significance in these matches so we’d get pretty excited.”
Despite their playoff struggles against the Cardinal, the Bears have managed to channel their excitement in the regular season, taking five of eight regular season matches against Stanford over the past four years.
This season, the Cardinal started as the No. 20 team in the country and have moved up in every subsequent ranking. After falling to No. 4 Connecticut in their second match of the season, Stanford has rallied back with five straight victories, three of them against ranked opponents.
This won’t be the Bears’ first matchup with the Cardinal this season, but it will be the first one that counts. In a preseason exhibition game on Aug. 16, the two squads played to a 1-1 draw.
“They’re a really tough team and we know them pretty well,” Onstead said. “We’re aware of their strengths and weaknesses and we’re also aware of ours, so we’re just going to try to match them up in a beneficial way.”
For the Bears, their 7-1 start has been sparked by sophomore forward Andrea Earle’s breakout season. Earle has earned consecutive NorPac West Offensive Player of the Week honors and leads the Bears with 22 points on the season.
“We’re trying to not focus as much on our opponent like in past years,” Earle says, downplaying the rivalry. “We’re just going to go in there and play our game and focus on ourselves.”
While many of the players try their best to focus more on themselves and less on surrounding hype of this match, coach Onstead – in her 17th year as head coach – still knows how to have fun with this rivalry.
“You know, I was angry today that my volunteer assistant showed up in red socks,” Onstead said. “Really angry.”