Cal field hockey to face tough opponent

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It has become quite apparent that Cal field hockey will not catch any breaks in its 2014 campaign. As the regular-season opener approaches, it looks as though the Bears will have their hands full right from the start as they take on Fairfield. The Stags are fresh off of an 11-7 season, one of the most successful in the program’s history, and look to establish themselves as a legitimate national power when they travel to Palo Alto on Friday.

The last time these two teams met was in 2010 when the Bears edged out Fairfield 3-2 in an overtime thriller. In the years since, the Stags have emerged as contenders in the America East Conference under the leadership of senior Felicitas Heinen. In 2013, Heinen led her team with 38 points and an average 4.22 shots per game, making her a nightmare for opposing defenses. Behind Heinen, the Stags’ offense scored at least three goals in 11 of their 18 matches and spearheaded Fairfield’s run in the team’s second consecutive conference tournament.

A thundering Stags offense may meet its match in the brick wall that is Cal goalkeeper Courtney Hendrickson, a redshirt senior. Hendrickson put up tremendous numbers last season and made her living bailing out a defense that allowed an average of 14.6 shots a match in 2013. She received NorPac West Defensive Player of the Year honors, largely because Hendrickson saved 136 shots with a .791 save percentage. But the Bears’ defensive unit is still suspect. Fresh and unproven faces fill its ranks, so it remains to be seen if any of the pressure will be taken off of the All-Conference goaltender.

“The new defense knows where to go and what shots I can and cannot handle,” Hendrickson said. “If I am able to duplicate the statistics I put up last season, it will be because they are making my job easy.”

While the defense remains a huge question mark, pressure falls on Cal’s offense to keep up with Fairfield. With a rejuvenated line of forwards, sophomore Andrea Earle and seniors Sydney Earle and Lara Kruggel, the Bears have the firepower to turn this match into a shootout. They will be tasked to put the ball past Stags keeper Caitlin Bennett.

This is no small feat given that Bennett posted a .647 save percentage in her rookie campaign last season and is the foundation of one of the most experienced defenses in the American East conference. Seniors Felicitas Heinen, Valerie Buurma and Emily Leo will be tasked to press Cal’s forwards throughout the game. If the Bears are going to open the new year with a victory, they will need to maintain possession, control the pace of the game and pepper the net with shots.

It seems as though both of these two teams are evenly matched as they prepare to take to Stanford’s Varsity Turf. Fairfield is going to give Cal a taste of the difficult schedule that lies ahead. The way that the team responds will be vital

Should the Bears beat the Stags on neutral turf, they will be more than capable to play with national powerhouses. But should Cal fall against Fairfield, the team will be left with the same daunting issues that keep them trapped in the utter mediocrity.

Contact Christian Legg at [email protected].