Cal women’s soccer finishes slow after a fast start

Kore Chan/File

Related Posts

They say what goes up must come down, and Cal women’s soccer learned that the hard way this season.

Cal (11-5-5) started the season with a 13-game undefeated streak that tied the Bears’ most successful start since 1987. The squad spent only one game ranked outside of the nation’s top 20 and hit a peak ranking of No. 8.

For any other squad, these figures might add up to a standout year. Yet, despite all of these individual measures of success, the squad could not quite put together a triumphant season. The Bears entered the season with higher aims than just impressive numbers —  they had their eyes on titles.

“When the season started out, we had a lot of goals in mind,” said forward Grace Leer. “We wanted to win Pac-12 and get to the tournament, which we did. We expected to go further in the tournament, which didn’t happen, unfortunately.”

Despite traditional conference powers UCLA and Stanford hoping to spoil the Bears’ plans, Cal spent most of the season in position to challenge for the conference title and a top tournament seed.

Just as the Bears edged closer to the finish line, however, the season took a turn for the worse. Immediately after its 13-game unbeaten streak, the squad went on a six-game winless streak.

Cal lost a heartbreaker to then-No. 2 UCLA in a respectable back-and-forth bout, eventually  falling 1-0 to the Bruins for Cal’s first loss of the season. Cal never quite recovered.

“The way that this season turned out is not what we ultimately wanted,” Leer said.

The Bears dropped their first true upset of the season to Oregon State, 1-0, subsequently suffering a 1-0 upset to Oregon and a 3-1 upset to Washington State.

The Bears were able to salvage their season after the rocky patch, ending Pac-12 play with two significant wins. The Bears took down Washington, 1-0, before heading into the conference closer at Stanford.

The matchup against perennial rival Stanford was just as fierce as one would expect. The Bears entered the game as underdogs, unranked for the first time all season.

A battle royale ensued, resulting in a 0-0 stalemate. With less than two minutes left in the first overtime period, senior Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick sent a long ball soaring from midfield over the Cardinal defense. Senior forward Rachel Mercik outpaced the Stanford defense, getting her head on the ball a split second before it hit the keeper’s gloves. The ball went into the net, giving Cal the golden goal in the season’s most electrifying moment and handing the Bears their first win over the Cardinal in seven years.

“Rachel Mercik scoring that goal in overtime was unbelievable,” Leer said. “Every team hopes for that kind of moment of magic within the season.”

There was more than pride on the line, as the win was likely the deal-breaker in securing Cal its 10th straight NCAA Tournament berth. The squad still had a few black marks on its record, however, forcing the Bears to play fourth-seeded Bay Area rival Santa Clara in the first round. Unfortunately for the Bears, they were unable to pull off another miracle, falling in a narrow 2-1 loss to the Broncos. The disappointing result ended Cal’s season as well the collegiate careers of 11 Bears, many of whom were four-year starters. The squad may not have met all of its goals for the year, but the season as a whole was largely a successful cap to the careers of this year’s seniors.

“I believe that we are a team that has the potential and deserves to go really far in the tournament and make a name for ourselves,” Leer said, looking forward. “I just hope that we can be the team that everyone knows we can be and get what we deserve. Scoring more goals and winning more games and getting more shutouts … that’s our mentality of living like a champion.”

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