Two weeks ago, the Cal field hockey team surrendered 10 goals to No. 1 UConn — the team’s biggest blowout loss since 2002. The loss forced the team into an impasse and directed it to a fork in the road with two possible destinations.
“Honestly, that was a pretty bad loss,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “You can go two ways after a loss like that.”
From that game forward, the Bears haven’t allowed a single goal.
After the weekend’s games against UMass-Lowell and Pacific, the Bears moseyed on home Sunday evening entirely unscathed, both in their record and on the scoreboard. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Kori Griswold and her band of roughriders have forged a stone wall on defense. The goalie pitched her second and third straight shutouts, earning her her third AE Defensive Player of the Week distinction in four weeks. The goalie’s progression is finally being revealed.
“You always hope it goes this way when you’re developing a player,” Onstead said.
Winning their games, 2-0 and 1-0, the Bears have finally found their identity as a defensive powerhouse that continually finds success in close games. Standing tall at 9-4 on the season and still maintaining perfection at 4-0 in conference play, Cal now finds itself in the driver’s seat of its division.
On Saturday, UMass-Lowell proved cannon fodder for the Bears. The game finished at 2-0, but the score failed to reflect Cal’s dominance. The Bears’ offense — suddenly awakened by the weak River Hawk defense — rattled off 14 shots on goal to their opponent’s one. Going into halftime, however, the game remained scoreless.
Just 29 seconds into the second half, the Bears drew first blood. On an impressive freshman connection, midfielder Bella Forbes centered the ball from the corner to fellow midfielder Marie Lanckneus, who volleyed it into the top corner of the net, just past the outstretched stick of River Hawk goalie Kelsey Frederico.
From there, it was up to Griswold to seal the victory. The goalie kept her poise throughout the chaos and made her first and only save of the game while forcing many other shots to veer wide of the goal. The barrage would continue in the match’s closing minutes, as UMass-Lowell surrendered its goalie for more offensive firepower — but again, the defense stood strong, as Cal took home its eighth win of the year.
Sunday provided more tension but ultimately the same result. Faced with a superior Pacific offense, Cal was able to muster only five shots to the Tigers’ nine. The bottom line, however, is that only one shot really mattered.
In the 27th minute, junior forward Nicole Henriksson drove solo into the teeth of the Pacific defense. Henriksson, who was bobbing and weaving through traffic, seemed neutralized when she approached the top of the circle, where multiple white-and-orange jerseys crowded her. With a flick of her wrist, however, Henriksson slid the ball in front of the mouth of the goal and directly onto the stick of freshman forward Janaye Sakkas, who tapped in her fifth score on the year.
The Tigers would retaliate quickly, aggressively sending four shots to the Bears’ back line in the last four minutes of the half. But Pacific was shut down, as the Bears once again held on to their lead. The shutout would continue in the second half, and after yet another vacated goalie situation in the game’s final two minutes, the Bears would secure their third consecutive win without a scratch.
A trend is fast developing for Cal. The team fights back and forth to get up one goal on its opponent and then cashes in on defense, hunkers down and waits for the clock to hit zeros. It may be unorthodox, but as long as it means they aren’t getting stomped, 10 goals to zilch, the Bears will likely continue their conservative play.
Austin Isaacsohn covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected].