Stanford’s Varsity Turf — the Cal field hockey team’s home field Sunday — rests smack dab in the middle of the farm in Palo Alto, California. It sits on a perfectly flat piece of land and is surrounded by palm trees and red etching. And as if that weren’t enough, Hoover Tower stands tall over the field, always casting its proud shadow. Always watching its proud Cardinal. The game was a nightmare from the very beginning for the Bears.
The 4-0 shutout loss to Stanford is a hiccup for a Cal team that still stands at the top of its division. While it still wears the crown of the conference, Cal knows just what it will be up against come playoff time and that the teams fast approaching will not prove to be the easy pickings of UMass-Lowell and Saint Louis.
The defeat was also a taste of the Bears’ own medicine, as over the past three games, they had been doing the shutting out themselves, winning, 1-0, 2-0 and 1-0. But those games mattered little Sunday, as the Bears proved that their miracle victory against Stanford last month was just that — a miracle.
After initially scoring 18 minutes into the match, Stanford went back on defense to protect its lead early in the first half. The game cracked wide open just before halftime, however, as the Cardinal tallied its second and third goals within a single minute just before the break.
“We really just let them get away,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “We had trouble getting the ball to our offense, and we just didn’t have an attack in the first half.”
The second period showed marked improvement for Cal. The Bears held tough throughout most of the 35 minutes, allowing Stanford into the semicircle just three times in the entire half. They’d allow a single goal, however, when Stanford’s Clemence Couteau was fed a wild pass from downfield and slipped it into the net.
“It was a tale of two halves, really. I thought we came out extremely nervous,” Onstead said. “If we had started the game the way we finished it, it would have been a different story.”
Sunday was also Senior Day for the Bears, and hundreds of alumni showed up at Stanford to root for the team.
“It was an awesome crowd, really — a dominant Cal crowd,” Onstead said. After a moment’s pause, she concluded, “We’re a little new to this.”
The success of Cal (9-5) this year is historically unprecedented. The seniors on the team who were celebrated before the game, Clara Goni and Kristen Lee, went 8-11 as juniors, 7-12 as sophomores and 8-12 as freshmen. The Bears are not used to the big stage and are new to getting Stanford’s best shot for reasons other than the seething rivalry between the two schools. A team led predominantly by its youth, the Bears are still riding the middle of a steep learning curve between perpetual mediocrity and sustained success. The good news for the team is that for the moment, it controls its own destiny. Wins against the remaining teams on the Bears’ schedule would guarantee them first place in the division, but a loss — especially a conference loss — would further complicate the pecking order of the division and pose a serious threat to their claim to the top of the division.
Austin Isaacsohn covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected].