Pac-12 title likely out of reach for Cal women’s soccer despite victory over Huskies

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No. 21 Cal women’s soccer may have gotten the win against Washington, but it may have come too little too late.

The Bears stood as a serious contender for the Pac-12 title before heading on the road for the last five games of the regular season, but that standing was in serious peril when Cal lost the first three away games of the year. The squad was in a deep hole, with only two conference games left to try to dig itself out and regain firm footing.

After dropping Friday’s Washington State (13-3-3, 3-5-1 Pac-12) matchup, 3-1, in their largest deficit of the year, the Bears bounced back to take on the Huskies (7-8-4, 3-3-3 Pac-12) on Sunday. Cal (10-4-5, 3-4-2) clinched a much needed victory with a second-half goal. Despite earning the win, the Pac-12 title likely remains just out of the Bears’ reach.

Cal’s woes began with the first away loss of the season, against Oregon State. The Bears dropped the match and also lost senior goalkeeper Emily Kruger to a concussion. Junior goalkeeper Kathleen Messinger stepped into the goal for the Bears in the next game — against Oregon. In her first career start, Messinger tallied five saves and allowed one goal in a loss. Messinger also started in the next matchup against Washington State but earned a red card in the 84th minute as the Bears lost 3-1.

“Neil told us after the Washington State game to really come out against Washington and fight — pure fight,” said sophomore Celeste Boureille.

With Messinger sidelined for the ensuing faceoff against Washington due to her red card in the previous game, the Bears looked to their third goalkeeper, freshman Maddie Julian, to hold off the Huskies. Julian did just that, holding Washington scoreless as the Bears rolled to a 1-0 victory.

“(Messinger’s) red card put us in a tough position, but (Julian) really stepped up and played the whole 90 minutes,” Boureille said. “Our back line was a wall, and the defense did really well today.”

While Julian took care of the defensive end of the scoreboard — notching four saves — forward Boureille took care of the offensive side. Senior forward Rachel Mercik crossed the ball into the Washington box, where sophomore Ifeoma Onumonu received it and fired a powerful shot. Husky goalkeeper Megan Kufeld made the save but was unable to catch the strong shot and deflected it to the other side of her box.

Boureille was in the right place and put the ball into the back of the net to give the Bears a 1-0 lead in the 53rd minute.

“The whole team felt very confident after that, and we knew that we were up one goal, so we tried to block everything and keep the ball in their half,” Boureille said.

The Bears held on to the lead to finish with their first win in the past seven games. Cal has one game left in the regular season. The squad with face rival No. 7 Stanford on Wednesday to close out the Pac-12 campaign. The Bears remain unsure as to whether their No. 1 goalkeeper Kruger will be recovered and on the pitch by then. Boureille insists the Bears are confident in all of their goalkeepers, citing strong performances by Julian and Messinger in the past few games.

Taylor Brink covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected]