The No. 17 Cal women’s soccer team suffered its biggest loss of the year — and it wasn’t the squad’s 3-0 defeat at Santa Clara on Sunday.
Senior forward Katie Benz, in the midst of a breakout year with 10 goals this season, suffered a season-ending leg injury in the 61st minute of Sunday’s match. She was carted off the field at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., and was scheduled for a surgery on Sunday night in San Francisco.
Benz — who spent the last three years fighting injuries — broke her leg when a Bronco went in for a rough tackle. Despite the dangerous tackle and Benz’s injury, Santa Clara went relatively unpunished by the referee, receiving only a foul.
“It is up to the digression of the referee to decide whether it deserved a card or not,” Lauren Battung said. “But it was a dangerous tackle. I was yards away from Benz in the center midfield, and from what I saw, the player came in with her cleats held high.”
With and without Benz, Cal struggled mightily against its first nationally ranked opponent of the season.
Despite outshooting the Broncos, 14-8, the Bears’ offense failed to score for the first time this season, due in part to the impressive play of Santa Clara goalkeeper Bianca Henninger.
On the flip side, the Broncos enjoyed great success on the offensive side early in the match. They scored their first goal of the match in the fourth minute when midfielder Julie Johnston headed the ball in from a free kick delivered by defender Margueritte Aozasa.
Neither squads created a goal opportunity through the next 20 minutes until Battung produced the best chance of the match when her shot bounced off the crossbar. Immediately following its lucky break, Santa Clara quickly counterattacked to perfection, culminating in midfielder Katie Speidel finishing a cross by defender Olivia Klei to double the lead.
“Santa Clara is a team that if you don’t capitalize your shots, they will find a way to capitalize on you,” Battung said. “And it clearly showed right after my shot hit the post.”
The Bears came out of the second half looking to cut the deficit down. Cal has shown time and time again that it is a second-half team that scores the vast majority of its goals in the late stages of the match.
But the Bears’ trend was extinguished in the 48th minute when Johnston scored again with her head — this time off a corner kick from Meleana Shim.
“The first and third goal came from set pieces,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said. “We will practice on our discipline and defending set pieces.”
In a match where many things went wrong for the Bears, players are looking at this as a wake-up call as they approach conference play.
“It’s better to lose in an out-of-conference match,” Battung said. “Although we lost this match, we have something to rally around for this season.
“From now, we will play for Katie.”