When the Cal women’s soccer team faces Stanford on Thursday at Edwards Stadium, the stakes will be all too familiar for the No. 22 Bears.
Exactly one year ago, Cal played the Cardinal in the midst of late-season recovery. Once ranked as high as No. 8 in the country, by early November, the 2013 Bears were fighting for their postseason lives. So when the squad proceeded to put together an unlikely 1-0 upset over its Bay Area rivals, the victory represented more than just another win — it likely punched the Bears’ ticket to the NCAA tournament.
While Cal’s 13-4-2 overall record and No. 4 standing in the Pac-12 could already be enough to push the Bears (5-3-2 Pac-12) into the postseason, they will enter Thursday’s matchup once again looking to make a positive impression on the NCAA selection committee.
“Anything to help our record heading into the NCAA tournament is crucial, so we’re hoping to get a good result out of this game,” said forward Grace Leer.
Ranked No. 3 in the country, Stanford (16-1-2, 8-1-1 Pac-12) will give the Bears one of their toughest tests of the season. Possessing all the hallmarks of a national title contender, the Cardinal ranks second only to No. 1-ranked UCLA in nearly every statistical category in the Pac-12 — including shots, goals and goals allowed. The squad also ranks third in the country in goals against average with a miniscule mark of .304.
Those statistics are reflective of a phenomenal season for Cal’s Bay Area rival. Other than its narrow 2-1 loss to the Bruins, Stanford remains undefeated this season, thanks to an extremely efficient offense and stingy defense led by goalkeeper Jane Campbell. A returning sophomore for the Cardinal, Campbell led her squad to a shutout streak of 803:18 minutes earlier this season — the 18th-longest in NCAA Division I history.
If the Bears hope to break through that nationally acclaimed defense, their offense will need to prove that it can find a rhythm against a top-5 opponent. In its matchup with UCLA earlier this year, Cal struggled to keep possession and, as a result, was outshot 20-4 on the way to 3-0 defeat.
“We took a lot from that game,” Leer said. “It wasn’t our best performance, so all we could do was build off that, and we definitely have.”
Since the Bears’ matchup with the Bruins, Cal has been on a five-game streak without a loss. And while the Bears plan to celebrate their veteran players during senior day Thursday, the squad has seen contributions from both its most experienced as well as its newest players. Over its past five games, the team has maintained an offensive rhythm while nine different players have scored.
“We have such a variety of people that can go out there and play great soccer,” Leer said. “I think if we just stick to our game plan, which is just possession and hard work and attacking and having a lot of focus in that, we’re going to have a great game.”
Dani Jo Coony covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].