Riding its best start in years, the Cal field hockey team will face stiff competition this week that will test whether its hot start was just a flash in the pan. The Bears will travel to Stockton this weekend, where they will do battle with UMass-Lowell and The University of the Pacific on consecutive days. These matches provide Cal the opportunity to not only definitively defeat the ghosts of its past, but gain an entire game on the rest of its division.
At this point, the motto is clear with the Bears: They will go exactly as far as their bluest chip — redshirt sophomore goalie Kori Griswold — will carry them. As a unit that doesn’t instill fear from opponents on the offensive end, it is oftentimes left to the Bears’ two-time AE Defensive Player of the Week, Griswold, to bring home the victory. The goalie’s condition has become the entire team’s condition. When she excels, the team feeds off of her success and scores enough to find victory. When she struggles, the Bears can’t come up with enough goals to bail her out, and lose.
In the Bears’ wins this year, Griswold has allowed an average of just over one goal per game, and Cal has scored nearly 3.4. In the team’s losses, Griswold has allowed 4.5 goals a game, and the Bears have mustered less than one. Her poise trickles down to the rest of the team, and it find its tenacity, or lack thereof. The good news for Griswold — and the Bears — is that she has excelled under the pressure. Cal has outsaved its opponents’ defenses by a staggering degree, racking up a cumulative 71 saves on the year, to their opponents’ 36 — this, despite being hopelessly outshot on the offensive end, 148-115. The trend seems to transcend the fact that Griswold has no technical impact on the offensive end.
The River Hawks of UMass-Lowell don’t jump out as a terror for the Bears, at least on paper. They hold a 5-6 record, and have yet to secure a single victory in their three games of conference play. However, the game will be an extraordinary opportunity for the Bears to conquer a struggling team — something that in the past has made them stumble. With the much tougher matchup against Pacific the very next day, the Bears must keep their focus and not overlook the River Hawks. While a win against UMass-Lowell wouldn’t clinch much for the Bears moving forward, a loss would be crippling.
A battle for first place will take place the following afternoon, as Cal will host a potential usurper to its throne on top of the division when the Bears square off against the University of the Pacific. With a victory, the Bears would gain some ground on the rest of their division, going two full games over the rest of the pack. A loss would force a tie with Pacific at the top of the division, and make their second tango on Oct. 28 much more impactful. The Bears have to know that the Tigers will be gunning for them with everything they’ve got, and must also be careful in their gameplan execution, keeping in mind the two will meet again in just a couple of weeks.
With each win, the Bears find themselves more highly ranked in the playoff seeding. Each loss, however, becomes all the more devastating for a team with budding confidence. Cal doesn’t have much experience with sustained success, and needs to acclimate quickly to what high-stakes life is like for the big dogs in the conference. Or should I say, the big bears.