Bears prepare for road ahead without Benz

Sean Goebel/File

Since star striker Katie Benz suffered a season-ending injury at Santa Clara on Sunday, the No. 21 Cal women’s soccer team has affirmed that the rest of the season will be dedicated to Benz.

“We are more motivated than ever now because we are going to play for Katie,” forward Miranda White said. “But we understand it will be very difficult to replace her.”

Although the Bears will miss her golden foot, Benz meant more than just a prolific goalscorer.

As the season progressed, Benz carried more and more responsibility on the offensive side of the pitch, establishing herself as an all-around forward that created and finished goal opportunities.

Now with a break in its attack, Cal (8-2) has to tinker with its tactics and formations as Cal travels to the Evergreen State this weekend.  On Friday at 7 p.m., the Bears face Washington at Husky Soccer Stadium in Seattle, followed by a Sunday matinee against Washington State in Pullman.

“I don’t want the opponents to know what exact tactical directions I will take the team this weekend,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said. “There are some new things I will try this weekend, but ultimately we will stay true to how we play.”

Alongside the logistical adjustments, McGuire has also gone back to basics this week. After giving up two of the three goals to Santa Clara in set pieces, McGuire has put extra focus on defending free kicks and corner kicks.

“The Santa Clara game is only in part of why we have been practicing set pieces,” midfielder Kate Bennett said. “We always needed to clean up on that this season.”

Both Washington and Washington State have had recent success in collegiate soccer, largely due to the rich talent pool in the Pacific Northwest that has produced star soccer players for years. This year is no different, as both teams have stockpiled gifted underclassmen this year.

Although the Huskies are struggling with a 4-4-2 record, the Cougars have had a good start to the season with a 7-3-1 record. The freshmen for Washington State have been an integral part of its current success; the freshmen players combined for 51 starts this season and five out of 16 goals this season.

Of the flock of young players in Pullman, freshman goalkeeper Gurveen Clair has been central in the Cougars’ defense. Starting all 11 matches this season, Clair has allowed nine goals, fourth best in the conference.

Despite the lack of experience in the Cougars’ squad, it pulled off a stunning 0-0 tie against No. 4 Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. three weeks ago. After its first conference win over USC last weekend, Washington State hopes to sneak past the Bears in the conference rankings this weekend.

“We are going into hostile environments far from home,” McGuire said. “We are going in with an underdog mentality.”

In typical underdog fashion, the Bears are going up to Washington with a chip on their shoulder to fill in the goalscoring boots that Benz has left behind.

“The team wants to make Katie proud this weekend,” McGuire said. “They want to show that they can make that leap without her.”