The stage was set for Cal field hockey to end its injury-plagued season with the sweetest kind of victory: an upset over NorPac powerhouse and archrival No. 11 Stanford at Maxwell Family Field on Thursday. Although coach Shellie Onstead’s squad put forth one of its best efforts of the season, the Cardinal came away with a 1-0 victory in an overtime thriller.
In their first meeting of the season, the Cardinal (13-4, 3-1 NorPac) completely shut down the Bears’ attack in Palo Alto on Sept. 20. They outshot Cal (6-11, 2-3 NorPac) 18-1, stomped the defense for three goals and walked away with an easy conference win. As the rivalry game came to Berkeley, however, Onstead’s unit would not be thwarted so easily in the season finale — a game the Bears played for pride more than anything.
It was the third time Cal played a ranked opponent into overtime. The Bears’ defense, in sharp contrast to its abysmal performance against Stanford earlier this season, held the Cardinal to only seven shots in regulation, taking much of the weight off of goalie Courtney Hendrickson. Anytime the ball crossed midfield, the Bears swarmed it and stymied the same Cardinal attack that has put up 15 goals in its past five games.
“I think the team as a whole played really well,” Onstead said. “The defense only allowed two corners, so I’d say they had a solid performance.”
The Bears’ offense, however, was clearly feeling the effects of crippling injuries. Cal produced only four shots on goal, two of which came from Lara Kruggel, who leads the team with 15 points this season. On the offensive side of the ball, the Bears have developed the habit of leaning on one or two players throughout the season, a strategy that has been resulted in inconsistency and a subpar record.
“I think this season has taught us perseverance and and how to deal with and overcome adversity,” Onstead said.
When the whistle blew at the end of regulation, the score 0-0. The Cal offense needed to regroup if there was any hope of the Bears pulling off a win against the highly touted Cardinal. The defense held firm all game, but Cal had significant trouble breaking into the attacking third — even as it held the advantage in penalty corners.
The two squads battled throughout much of the overtime period, with neither side seeing any breaks in the other’s defense. Just as the first round of extra time was coming to a close, Stanford hit pay dirt. In the 74th minute, midfielder Shannon Herold received a sharp pass from defender Kelsey Harbin and took the shot that broke the Bears’ spirit. The net shook as the ball beat Hendrickson, and Cal ended the regular season to the familiar tune of defeat.
“We still need to work on capitalizing on our chances and finishing,” Onstead said. “We had four corners, and were unable to penetrate the circle. We need to work on capitalizing before the NorPac Tournament.”
The Bears will enter the NorPac Tournament with a 2-2 record in their last four games. Cal is going to need to need to be at full strength as it prepares to face Liberty, UC Davis and, yes, the Stanford Cardinal.
“We are slowly getting healthy again,” Onstead said. “The season is not over, and we still have a lot of work to do.”
Christian Legg covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected].