For the No. 9 Cal women’s soccer team, Senior Day came with some extraordinary senior heroics.
The Bears (9-1-5, 2-1-3 Pac-12) took on the Colorado Buffs (11-3-1, 3-2-1 Pac-12) at Edwards Stadium on Friday afternoon, and thanks to senior captain and center back Emi Lawson’s last-second goal, they were able to pull off a dramatic 1-1 tie.
“In the moment, if you’re going to have the ball land on someone’s head, you want it to be Emi Lawson,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “She’s just the rock of our team, and people have leaned on her for four years.”
Despite retaining the majority of possession throughout the game and outshooting Colorado, 13-9, Cal found itself down 1-0 with just a minute to play in regulation.
With the crowd roaring and the entire Cal bench on its feet, forward Ifeoma Onumonu received the ball at midfield and began sprinting down the right touchline. She beat one defender before a clattering slide tackle by Buffs freshman Alex Huynh brought her to the ground. Match official Juan Colazo quickly blew for a foul and showed Huynh a yellow-card caution, and the clock stopped with only 10 seconds to spare in the match.
Cal’s senior right back Ariana Martinez stepped up to the take the ensuing free kick, and all 10 of the Bears’ remaining players crowded into Colorado’s goal box to await the delivery.
A perfectly weighted cross came in from Martinez, and in a moment of sheer willpower, Lawson rose up above her marker to meet the ball with her head and direct it into the top-right corner of the net.
“When (Martinez) went out there, I pointed to her and said, ‘Find my head,’ ” Lawson said. “I didn’t care who I had to run down. I was going to get the ball.”
The game went into extra time, and despite seeing a few excellent chances to score, the Bears were unable to capitalize on the momentum from Lawson’s goal.
“In overtime, we had four, maybe five real chances to score,” McGuire said. “Great teams take one, and we took five and didn’t. So we just need to improve our execution.”
For stretches of the game, a stagnant Cal offense was marred by a lack of movement off the ball. The Bears managed to keep possession in their own half and in midfield, but they lacked conviction in the attacking third of the field. Cal started the match playing slower than usual, an issue that caught McGuire by surprise.
“We came out flat, and when you come out, flat good teams are going to take advantage of you,” McGuire said. “Generally with the emotion of senior day, there’s a lot of energy, so I was somewhat surprised by that.”
Asked what the team needs to improve on as it enters the final stretch of the season, Cal senior captain and goalkeeper Emily Kruger pointed to keeping possession of the ball.
“It’s killer when we don’t keep the ball,” Kruger said. “We can be so great at it, and right now, we do it in spurts, so we need to find a way to do it for 90 minutes.”
Josh Netter covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].