Cal field hockey faces tough challenge on the road

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After splitting two overtime bouts last weekend, Cal field hockey (1-1, NorPac 0-0) finally looks as though it is slowly making its way back into relevance. The Bears proved their mettle in Palo Alto, picking up a big win against Fairfield and going toe-to-toe with No. 18 Delaware. Now, the team will travel to Bloomington, Indiana, where an undefeated Hoosiers squad (2-0, 0-0 Big 10) awaits the Sept. 5 matchup.

History certainly favors Indiana when it faces Cal from the comfort of home. In their last meeting in Bloomington, the Hoosiers beat the Bears 2-1 in an overtime penalty shootout, which the Hoosiers won by a score of 6-5. If Cal has any intention on breaking the streak and earning a huge win on its current road trip, it will need to play near-perfect field hockey.

The Hoosiers are fresh off a 6-0 dismantling of St. Louis University in Kentucky. Establishing their offensive prowess, the Hoosiers scored nine goals over the course of two games, notching a .711 shots-on-goal percentage.

Indiana’s quick-strike offense is led by forward Audra Heilman, who has a team-best 13 points under her belt to start the year. It is safe to say that the former first team All-Big 10 First Team honoree will more than likely receive a lot attention from the Bears’ defensive unit. With extra eyes falling on the star forward, Indiana needs more than just Heilman if they are going to compete with the Bears.

This kind of production does not bode well for Cal head coach Shellie Onstead’s unproven defense. Cal conceded 27 shots last weekend and 16 penalty corners, leaving them susceptible to open shots in front of the net. Fortunately for the Bears, goalkeeper Courtney Hendrickson looks sharp in between the posts, putting up a .765 save percentage with 13 saves over two matches. Hendrickson will need the defensive unit as a whole to pick up the pace and bottleneck Indiana’s relentless attack if Cal is going to emerge victorious.

Cal’s offense is probably the best thing about the team after its performance last weekend. It has become apparent that the Bears are placing emphasis on controlling the ball and the overall pace of matches. By maintaining possession, the Bears wear away at the opposition and are able find open lanes to drive to the cage.

Facing a strong offensive team like Indiana, Cal needs to keep the ball on its end of the field and let its line of forwards — led by Andrea Earle and Lara Kruggel — press into the circle. If the Bears can continue to do this without committing any turnovers, they should be able to tear through Indiana’s defense. If not, Cal will be playing in a shootout.

Balanced matchups are few and far between for the Bears in their 2014 campaign. As the bulk of its schedule approaches, a win against Indiana will go a long way for Cal down the stretch. If the offense continues to control games and the defense can step it up, there is no reason to think Cal cannot compete with some of the nation’s best talent.

Contact Christian Legg at [email protected].