Cal field hockey travels to face Kent State, Buckeyes

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Lewis and Clark once found oasis in the Ohio River Valley on their way to the West Coast, and the Cal field hockey team will do its best to emulate the two pioneers’ strategy. The Bears will travel to Columbus this weekend and take on two struggling midwestern teams before finishing the regular season back home on the West Coast. The Bears will play Kent State on Saturday and Ohio State on Sunday, in two out-of-division matchups that will be more impactful to the team’s psyche than its division standing.

Despite tearing into the match on a three-game shutout streak, Cal’s soaring confidence took quite a hit with Sunday’s loss to the Cardinal but avoided crashing down completely. The team is still first in its division and will not face another conference opponent until Wednesday, when it takes a trip to Stockton to visit Pacific for the second time this season..

“If we can win out, we still win the division,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “We’re definitely still in a good place.”

The Bears’ two opponents over the weekend should provide the necessary kindling to fuel their postseason push. Despite their contrasting records, the Golden Eagles (5-8) ride into the match on much better ground than the Buckeyes. After losing six straight games in the first part of the season, Kent State has shown a lot of grit, as it has climbed back into consideration and is currently third in the Mid-American Conference. The Buckeyes (8-6) have had a much tougher go as of late, losing four of their last seven. Ohio State has all but fallen out of contention in the Big Ten, which is led by a couple of 13-3 teams in Michigan and Maryland. Cal has by far the most to play for, in terms of conference positioning, out of the three teams, and should play like it this weekend.

Kent State is a team plagued by consistently subpar defensive performance. Even though it tends to match its opponents in shots per game, 15.9 to 15.5, and cumulative shots on goal, 122 to 120, it has allowed 37 goals to its foes, while scoring only 22. This game will be a good opportunity for the Bears to rediscover their offense, which has gone dormant in their most recent stretch of games, scoring only four goals in the last 5 matches. This will likely be the only time for the remainder of the season that Cal will be able to flex its consistently limp offensive muscle, and the Bears will look to attack early and often against the porous Golden Eagle defense.

Although the Bears have all the tools to overcome Ohio State, their matchup will be a different test for the Bears entirely. The Buckeyes’ offense is tremendously top-heavy, with its leading three-point earners — Peanut Johnson, Maddy Humphrey and Emma Royce — accounting for nearly 70 percent of all the team’s points in the season. The team places little value on ball movement with 19 assists on the year, as compared with Cal’s 24.

The name of the game in this one looks simple: Spotlight Ohio State’s three best players, and the rest of the unit’s passing will fall apart. The Cal defense is dramatically streaky at times, allowing no goals in three of the last five games but an average of seven in the other two. If the Bears can get the best game out of their three-time AE Defensive Player of the Week, redshirt sophomore goalie Kori Griswold, they should be able to take care of business in the Buckeye State.

Because the games this weekend are out of conference, their outcomes have little statistical significance for the Bears moving forward — especially when compared with next weekend, when the team will end the regular season with two division matchups. Wins would engender confidence and losses would stir doubt, and with the playoffs on the horizon, the Bears’ time to play their best hockey is now, no matter the opponent.

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