The record books were against the Cal women’s soccer team heading into its difficult matches against No. 4 North Carolina and No. 18 Duke. The Bears, however, defied the odds and shocked their top-20-ranked foes to win the Duke Nike Classic in Durham, North Carolina.
Having lost all nine of their previous encounters against the Tar Heels, the Bears finally made a breakthrough Friday as they recorded a 1-1 draw against North Carolina thanks to a goal from junior forward Arielle Ship. Ship found the back of the net in the 15th minute off a pass from junior midfielder Kelly Fitzgerald, who picked up her first career assist.
Cal nearly secured its first victory against North Carolina, but the Tar Heels’ Megan Buckingham ensured that the Bears wouldn’t get the best of her side. Buckingham leveled the score in the 88th minute for North Carolina with a long-distance shot from 18 yards out.
Although the team did not emerge victorious, Cal earned the distinction of being the first program to score against North Carolina this season. The Bears ended the Tar Heels’ 374-minute season-opening shutout streak and put on a solid defensive effort that prevented North Carolina from pulling off a successful last-minute comeback. Cal’s defense once again showcased its strong form, as it held up against a dangerous Tar Heels offense that tallied a total of 17 goals in its four games.
Seemingly inspired by their positive result against the Tar Heels, the Bears then went on to defeat the Duke Blue Devils, 3-1, on Sunday for the very first time. Cal got on the scoreboard early in the match as a result of senior forward Ifeoma Onumonu’s shot to the far corner in the 12th minute. Her first goal of the season ended the Blue Devils’ shutout streak this season. The senior’s fine form later propelled the Bears to a 2-0 lead when she headed the ball over the backline to Ship, who shot the ball into the far corner of the net in the 14th minute. Ship now has five goals to her name this year and has also notched two assists.
Ship’s teammate, senior forward Celeste Boureille, once again displayed her sharp form in front of the goal and rendered Duke redshirt junior midfielder Danielle Duhl’s goal in the 38th minute nothing but a minor blemish. Boureille won the match for Cal in the 60th minute off a corner kick from Fitzgerald: Ship flicked the ball toward Boureille, who then struck the ball into the upper 90 of the net. The goal secured the Duke Nike Classic for the Bears over the Tar Heels because of goal differential.
“In the early stages of the season, it’s important that you get a positive result against great teams because it creates confidence within your squad,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “Our result against North Carolina and then Duke is going to help the team feel good about its performances and looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Despite the team’s strong performance on the pitch this weekend, McGuire said his side needs to improve on maintaining possession. He explained that holding the ball will decrease the likelihood of the opposition’s chances to score and will tire out the team’s rivals a lot faster. Improving on this aspect of the team’s game will also help relieve pressure on the defense while increasing the offense’s chances to score.
If the Bears manage to strengthen their possession skills, they’ll likely continue to provide a few upsets this season, perhaps even against the Pac-12’s powerhouses.