Tilt with Stanford prelude to NorPac tournament

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In its final two regular season games, the Cal field hockey team needs to shift its momentum in time for the upcoming NorPac conference tournament.

Three days from the season finale, the Bears (5-10, 1-3 in NorPac) will travel to No. 14 Stanford.

Cal comes off of a three-game losing streak with a pair of close road losses to No. 25 Wake Forest and No. 24 Duke.

Despite being competitive with the two teams, the Bears will use the 7 p.m. matchup with Stanford on Tuesday as a way to measure its own progress.

“I think it’ll be a great test,” Cal coach Shellie Onstead said. “We’ve had it all going pretty well most of the time on this trip, and I think we’ve learned a lot from this.”

With the current tournament format, the Bears can still advance to the NCAA tournament without winning any of the remaining regular season games by winning the NorPac conference tournament.

The NorPac competition is an eight-team title race between the East and West divisions in which the winner automatically advances to the NCAA tournament.

Even with a loss on Tuesday, it is possible for Cal to win the conference title.

Losing this game, however, means that the Bears will stay in the bottom half of the West Conference ranking going into the NorPac tournament.

Cal finishing third in the West division would put the Bears and the Cardinal in the same bracket for the Norpac tournament, which means Cal would likely face its Bay Area rival in the semifinals in a quick turnaround following Tuesday’s game.

“The difference between two and three isn’t huge,” Onstead said. “No matter what we have to win all three games and get through Stanford. We need to peak next week.”

This Tuesday will be the second and last time the Bears will face the Cardinal before the conference tournament. This is the last regular season game for the Cardinal, who has already secured the West division championship and a relaxed playing schedule for the tournament.

“The difference is more about game times and recovery times,” Onstead said. “You get a little less the lower you are.”

In the Bears’ last matchup against the Cardinal, Cal held Stanford to a 1-1 tie for much of the game before the Cardinal broke apart with just 13 seconds left in the game.

Since last playing the Bears, the Cardinal has held a consistent 5-2 record, only losing to No. 1 Syracuse and No. 4 Connecticut.

For Stanford, defender Becky Dru leads Stanford’s offense with nine goals and eight assists. Unlike the Bears — whose offense rotates around team-leading scorer Lara Kruggel — the Cardinal has several strong offensive players in Courtney Haldeman and Maddie Secco.

Though Cal already lost to superior Stanford, the Bears do have the advantage of familiarity. Whereas Cal did not know what to expect against Duke and Wake Forest, the Bears will play against the Cardinal with previous experience.

No matter the outcome against the Cardinal, the Bears will have an opportunity to redeem an underachieving season at the NorPac conference.

“I feel very good about the tournament,” Onstead said. “I think (winning is) still very achievable.”

Jessica Lim covers field hockey. Contact her at [email protected]