The field hockey game against Stanford is always important for the obvious reasons. However, this years game also has the added dimension of a possible NorPac tournament preview, with the Bears likely needing to eventually beat the Cardinal to receive a bid for the NCAA tournament. The Bears will host the No. 12 Cardinal in their last regular season game on Thursday at 3:00 p.m. at Maxwell Field.
After winning two out of their last three games, the Bears are finally beginning to live up to pre-season projections. They look to build form for the upcoming NorPac tournament, which decides whether they get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. This game is a critical test and a potential NorPac tournament showdown for the Bears, who will most likely have eventually defeat the Cardinal to win the tournament.
In preparation for the game, Cal (6-10, 2-3 NorPac) split a series of games against tough competition in Boston this past weekend. The previous results on the East Coast, alongside their home win versus UC Davis prior to the road trip, will give them further confidence against a dominant Stanford squad.
“I think momentum is a good thing going into the tournament,” said coach Shellie Onstead. “Rivalries are fun, and this is a healthy rivalry. It adds some emotion to the game and you always look forward to the Stanford game.”
The Bears have already faced Stanford once this season, losing in Palo Alto, 3-0. The Cardinal dominated that game in all facets, and the team hasn’t slowed down since. After defeating Cal, the Cardinal went 7-3 over the next ten games, including impressive wins against No 14 Wake Forest and No 11 Albany. Head coach Tara Danielson has a highly impressive 21-2 record in league play, including four straight wins over Cal since 2011.
The Cardinal boast one of the best front lines in the nation, winning statistical battles when it comes to numbers of shots (256-135), penalty corners (129-52) and goals (45-16) over the course of the season. With the team led by Senior forward Hope Burke leads the team with 20 points and eight goals, and junior midfielder Alex McCawley also promises to be one to look out for, after her five shots and two goals against the Bears in the earlier game.
Still, there is hope for the home side, as the Bears look set to return to near full fitness for the first time all season. Star striker Andrea Earle may be set to make her return from yet another injury, while midfielder Shannon Elmitt continues to build match fitness as she looks to start her fourth game in a row.
“We’re going to get a few minutes out of Andrea late in the game,” said coach Shellie Onstead. “We had a little bit of a problem over the weekend with Nicole Wallstedt. I think she’ll be ok for tomorrow.”
To win the game, the Bears will have to be more offensive-minded, having recorded just one shot and zero penalty corners in the first rivalry game. Team points leader, junior forward Lara Kruggel, will need to have an impressive game and test Stanford’s goalkeeper often to have a chance of winning. Similarly, the team’s MVP so far this season, goalie Courtney Hendrickson, will have to have a superb game to stop the deadly Stanford attack, which last game flew through the porous Cal defense to record 18 shots and 3 goals.
Apart from being a rivalry game, this game offers the Bears a chance to test themselves against one of the best sides in the nation, and a team they could be facing in two weeks in the NorPac tournament for the chance to go to the NCAA Regional tournament.
Glenn Borok covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected].