Cal field hockey faces arch rival, No. 12 Stanford

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The Cal field hockey team will return to the scene of the crime Sunday and pay another visit to No. 12 Stanford, whom they defeated Sept. 18 in a huge upset. The rematch provides Cal the opportunity to legitimize its win last month over the Cardinal and further secure its spot at the top of the division. The difference this time around, however, will be in the Bears’ claim as the home team in Palo Alto.

The Bears are facing a much different Cardinal team than the one they upset a month ago. Stanford rode into the match on a red hot six-game winning streak, ranked No. 6 in the nation. The Bears, however, found victory in sudden death overtime, thanks to the opportunistic stick of junior midfielder Sydney Earle.

From that game on the Cardinal has entered a tailspin, and has gone 3-3 in its last six games, including the game against the Bears. In contrast, Cal has springboarded from the win, going 5-1 from that game forward. Both squads now stand at 9-4 on the year, but Cal holds the edge in the rankings due to its undefeated divisional play, while Stanford has one aforementioned loss. Cal snatched first place in the division from Stanford with the earlier win, but the team knows that the Cardinal will be eager to exact revenge and get the lead back.

“I’ve stressed since day one that these types of games are going to be one-goal games, and extremely hard-fought.” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “I expect the exact same on Sunday.”

The Cardinal attack is unlike any other foe on the Bears’ schedule. A team that values deliberate passing and playmaking over individual heroics, Stanford’s two leaders in assists — senior Maddie Secco with eight, and sophomore Sarah Helgelson with seven — both outpace any player on Cal’s roster.

The good news for the Bears is that their defense has proved dominant over their most recent stretch, and has not allowed a goal in more than 215 minutes of gameplay. Sunday will be a healthy test for a unit just hitting its stride, as Stanford puts up an astounding average of 14 shots per game.

The Bears are brimming with confidence after their past undefeated weekend, however, and seem prepared heading into the matchup.

“Our experiences this past weekend with UMass and Pacific, just the back-to-back games and the hot weather — we had to find a way to get it done as we go. Stanford will be more of that,” Onstead said.

The program is enjoying its best start to a season since 2011, when the team was ranked No. 11 in the nation, and came within a single win of a national championship tournament berth. Perhaps due to their puzzling losses earlier in the year, the Bears still find themselves unranked. A win over their archrival Stanford on Sunday, however, could result in the Bears earning a spot in the top 20 for the first time this season. It’ll take just a pinch of offense, the usual heaping helping of defense and some luck for Cal to double down on the its victory on Stanford’s soil.

Austin Isaacsohn covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected]