No. 8 Cal women’s soccer seeks to ascend national ranks against USC and No. 2 UCLA

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With the state of Arizona conquered after wins against the Sun Devils and Wildcats, the No. 8 Cal women’s soccer team (9-0-3, 2-0-1 Pac-12) now turns its attention to Southern California. Having finally cracked the top-10 national rankings, Cal will look to get the better of USC (5-6-1, 0-3-0 Pac-12) and No. 2 UCLA (10-1-1, 2-0-1 Pac-12) and justify its position among the national elite.

The Bears take on a struggling USC at 3 p.m. Friday, followed by a highly anticipated clash against UCLA at 11 a.m. Sunday — both home games, both against formidable opponents and both sure to please fans looking for high-quality college soccer.

Although UCLA is certainly the more daunting of the two opponents the Bears face this weekend, Cal head coach Neil McGuire is emphasizing the first game, against USC. McGuire’s insistence on approaching the season one game at a time has kept his team grounded and focused even while it climbs the national rankings.

“Our focus is USC,” McGuire said. “They are a little wounded right now. They’ve had some tough results, but they have a great coach, and he’ll have them ready. So our mentality has to be right, our preparation has to be right and we’ll be as ready as we can be.”

Despite a No. 22 preseason ranking, the Trojans have struggled to impress thus far and find themselves in the midst of a four-game slide. Winless in the Pac-12 and yet to play conference powerhouses such as Stanford and UCLA, USC will be hoping to get its season back on track against the Bears.

McGuire identified USC’s attacking duo of senior Elizabeth Eddy and freshman Kayla Mills, who have combined for eight goals and five assists this season, as two key players Cal needs to pay attention to.

“Elizabeth Eddy is an extremely special talent up front, and Kayla Mills is a freshman who’s come in and is super talented and very dangerous, so we’ll do our best to deal with them both,” McGuire said.

Although Cal’s coaches and players may be focused on USC going into Friday afternoon’s game, the rest of the college soccer world has its attention on Sunday’s 11 a.m. kickoff against UCLA. The battle against the second-ranked Bruins will be Cal’s most challenging test of the season thus far, and it pits two of the country’s highest-scoring offenses against each other.

The UCLA attack is spearheaded by freshman phenom Darian Jenkins, a young striker from Riverton, Utah, who has started in all 12 of her team’s games this season and leads the squad with eight goals. Supporting Jenkins are sophomore forward Taylor Smith and junior midfielder Sarah Killion, each with six assists this season. All three have been involved at various levels of the United States youth national teams and are likely to give Cal’s defense fits Sunday afternoon.

The Bears will counter with a strong attack of their own, led by experienced playmaker Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick and sophomore center forward Ifeoma Onumonu. Onumonu, who has eight goals and two assists to her name so far this season, conceded after Cal’s most recent game that her team has “been struggling a little bit to keep intensity up throughout the whole game.”

The Bears will look to maintain a high level of intensity for all 90 minutes against UCLA, as a win would likely shoot Cal to a ranking among the top few teams in the nation.

Josh Netter covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].