It was announced Monday that the Cal women’s soccer team will be facing Pepperdine in the opening round of the NCAA Championships on Friday. The team will be traveling to southern California as the Waves have been designated as the hosts for this knockout encounter.
Cal posted a record of 13-5-2 in the season while Pepperdine finished with a 12-4-3 record. Pepperdine is not a familiar foe for the Bears, with their last meeting being three years ago in a regular season matchup. That match ended in a 1-1 tie.
“Pepperdine isn’t an opponent that we see too often, but our coaches have really helped us a lot with preparing us for what we are up against,” said midfielder Alexa Vandevanter. “I don’t think there will be a massive element of surprise, and we’ll be ready to take them down.”
The Bears had a stellar start to the season that included a nine-game unbeaten run from Sept. 11 to Oct. 20. Cal amassed a total of 36 goals scored and 16 goals conceded this season. Worryingly for the Bears, however, 10 of those 16 conceded goals have come in the past five matches. Cal’s season took a hit after the controversial overtime loss to Colorado at home, and it was only able to win one of its past four games.
Pepperdine’s longest undefeated streak was nine games, lasting from Sept. 18 to Oct. 23. The Waves’ performance this season allowed them to capture the West Coast Conference Title. Pepperdine’s biggest attacking threat will be Rylee Baisden who scored six goals and assisted five.
The Bears will be looking to forwards Ifeoma Onumonu and Arielle Ship to steer their offensive ship. Cal head coach Neil McGuire’s quick passing strategy greatly benefited the free-moving forwards who scored 10 goals each. Ship and midfielder Emma Fletcher were also the primary creative facilitators for Cal as they recorded six and four assists, respectively.
“Both teams will be prepared defensively to contain two great offenses,” McGuire said. “It will boil down to a piece of magic, or a mistake, to get the breakthrough. We’re hoping to minimize the mistakes and create more pieces of magic.”
Cal has made it to the NCAA Championships but hasn’t made it past the second round in the past two years. This year could be different for a team that has played some beautiful soccer throughout the season, or it could end in the same manner if it is unable to shake off the rust that has set in recently.