Cal field hockey falls 2-0 to Syraucse despite defensive efforts

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There’s no such thing as a moral victory, but all except for the most hardcore of coaches are willing to acknowledge a gray area between the ecstasy of a win and the crushing feeling of a bad loss. Against an experienced No. 5 Syracuse team, Cal field hockey managed to impress by holding the Orange close in a 2-0 loss that could have gotten uglier but for a resilient defensive effort.

“I was very happy to keep it that close,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “We were in it right to the end. Even three minutes left, down 2 goals, we’ve come back from that situation before. The main thing is that we kept competing, and honestly I thought we had a few more opportunities than they did, we just have a little bit to clean up in the front field.”

Less than five minutes into the match, Syracuse opened up the scoring off a penalty corner. The shot came off the stick of senior Lies Lagerweij, a 2016 NFHCA First Team All-American who led the Orange in scoring last year. A goal coming so quick in the game seemed to bode poorly for the Bears defense; Syracuse’s offense was among the best in the nation last year and won six different games by 4 goals (a whipping in field hockey).

The defense instead responded by buckling down and largely managing to contain the Orange’s attack. Although Syracuse’s players showed off considerable passing touch and ball control, Bear defenders did a good job of staying in front of their marks and challenging shot opportunities. While the Orange took almost 18 shots per game last year, they only got nine off against Cal, only five of which were on goal.

But without much of an offensive presence to take the pressure off, the defense eventually yielded another Syracuse goal with 13 minutes remaining, this time from junior Jennifer Bleakley, who seemed to be emerging as one of the Orange’s more featured players this season. Now needing to beat the clock, the Bears got off two shots in the last minutes of the game, neither managing to be on goal.

“The (first goal) goal came off a corner, which is supposed to be an offensive advantage,” Onstead said. “We knew that girl could hit the ball hard, and she did her job, so giving up the corner wasn’t that disappointing, and we just dug right in. I guess if you have to give up goals, you don’t want them to be soft. We were in the proper marking position the entire time except once, and that’s what happens against quality teams. But I’m very happy with the team effort.”

Cal didn’t have much time to lick its wounds, as it quickly had to prepare for Monday’s home match against Michigan State. Coming off a 4-0 loss against University of the Pacific and a 2-1 win over UC Davis (the sole team predicted to finish behind Cal in the American East West Division), the Spartans should provide a better chance for a morale-boosting, early-season win.

Highly touted freshman Megan Rodgers played the fourth-most minutes on the team and generally looked good when she was involved in the action of the game, but stationed deep into the Orange’s side of the field, she was bottled up for the most part. Michigan State should offer a better glimpse into what she could offer this season.

“One of the best balls you can do in hockey is serve it across the face of the goal, and all it takes is a forward standing there to put it in,” Onstead said. “(But) they were so eager to get to the ball, it’s just that ability to stand there and wait and put it in, which me, as a forward, I made my living in.”

Andrew Wild is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @andrewwild17.