No. 18 Cal women’s soccer welcomes Loyola Marymount for NCAA playoffs bout

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In what has become an almost expected part of their season, the No. 18 Cal women’s soccer team will be appearing in the NCAA playoffs for the 12th straight year. The No. 3 seed Bears hope to accomplish what has been unobtainable for the past 33 years — win Cal’s first NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship in school history.

The Bears will take on Loyola Marymount in the first round of the championships Saturday to the roar of their home fans. The 13-5-1 Lions should prove to be a formidable matchup for the Bears, who finished the regular season with a similar record of 13-5-3.

“We’re really excited,” said Cal sophomore defender Annia Mejia. ”We’re going to do really well as long as we keep our mindsets going and game going.”

The offense looks to start the playoffs where they left off the regular season and put pressure on the LMU defense. Cal’s graduating forwards — Samantha Witteman, Celeste Boureille and Ifeoma Onumonu  — plan to bring the same heat they have been serving all season to make their last year with Cal a memorable one.

Junior forward Arielle Ship, this year’s Pac-12 Player of the Year, busted onto the scene this season after a quiet 2014 campaign. Her 14 goals, 34 points and six game-winning goals led the conference while striking fear in the eyes of opposing goalkeepers on the way. Ship’s performance during the playoffs will no doubt play a pivotal role if the Bears transcend their second-round elimination last season.

Cal’s defense, which has remained a constant barrier for opposing offenses during the regular season, also hopes to keep the ball rolling heading into the club’s second home postseason start in a row.

Sophomores Mejia and Indigo Gibson, along with fifth-year senior Sandra Ley, will look to neutralize the Lions’ offense as they have to so many other teams this year. The Bear defense has allowed the third fewest goals this season in the Pac-12 with only 13.

Credit also has to be attributed to sophomore goalkeeper Emily Boyd, who owns the best save percentage (.860) in the conference. Boyd, Cal’s leader in single season shutouts, hopes to keep her hands hot against LMU after recording a career-high 10 saves against Stanford last week.

Boyd and company can’t get too cocky, however, as LMU is coming in as the top offensive team in the West Coast Conference. Leading their conference in points and goals, the Lions will bring their best to Edwards Stadium and may hand the Bears an early end to their championship run.

Senior midfielder Jocelyn Blankenship will hope to play spoiler for the Bears, as she leads the Lions in goals with seven and points with 19. Coupled with senior forwards Morgan Hilby and Shannon Kent, LMU will have plenty of offensive talent to throw at the Cal defenders.

With the proven offense and stellar defense that Cal has shown this season, the only thing left for the Bears is to hit the field and prove to everyone that they could be the best team in the NCAA.

Chris Tril covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @CTril.