No. 22 Cal women’s soccer takes on No. 1 Stanford for regular season finale

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After a season characterized by wins, a strong defense and an impressive streak of shutouts, the No. 22 Cal women’s soccer team is preparing for one last showdown. On Friday, the Bears will take on their Bay Area rival, No. 1 Stanford (17-1, 10-0), for the last game of the regular season. It should come as no surprise that the teams have a long history, with Cal’s last win over the Cardinal coming in the 2013 season and Stanford leading the all-time series 20-11-5.

After losing to then-No. 5 USC and then-No. 6 UCLA this past weekend, the Bears are coming into the game in seemingly poor form. The Cardinal breezed by UCLA 1-0 and USC 3-1 this past weekend as well and secured their spot at the top of the Pac-12 for the third consecutive year. Cal, on the other hand, has been overcome in the conference by Arizona and dropped to fifth — just barely sliding through to the NCAA tournament.

While Cal is no longer ranked in the national top 20, there’s no reason to brush it aside just yet. Its hardest games of the season are always at the very end, so a loss or two and a drop in rankings wasn’t unexpected. Despite these shortfalls, the Bears are still one of the most competitive teams in the conference. Their defense is incomparable, as senior goalkeeper Emily Boyd is tied for first in the conference with 10 shutouts. Their offense is talented as well, with sophomore Abi Kim having 37 shots and 7 goals to show for this fall, despite being heavily marked in every game since her conference Offensive Player of the Week award in the first week of the season.

“Practice (Tuesday) was intense,” said redshirt senior Kelly Fitzgerald. “(We focused on) a lot of defending: defending with numbers, defending as a team and winning your battle personally.”

While there are many rationales as to why Stanford is the top team in the nation, an easy explanation is the enduring fitness of the players. There isn’t just one person who controls the game, one point player on offense. Every single athlete on the field is consistently putting the maximum amount of effort and is playing the best she possibly can.

And they have demonstrated this talent repeatedly throughout the season. Redshirt junior keeper Alison Jahansouz, sophomore keeper Lauren Rood and the Cardinal defense have only let in 6 goals this fall. Offensively, freshman Catarina Macario and redshirt junior Kyra Carusa lead the team with 13 and 12 goals, respectively, and Macario blows away the rest of the Pac-12, as she leads the league in goals, shots (96), points (36) and assists (10). Stanford currently has a 15-game winning streak, and a strong, unified team is the reason why.

“We haven’t been preparing for one player specifically,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re a solid team, and they’ve had a lot of different scorers this season, so we are just preparing ourselves for our game right now and not really focusing on Stanford yet.”

There’s no question that this will be the most difficult, most demanding game of the season for the Bears. It’s important for many reasons; despite it being an intense rivalry, both teams are headed for the NCAA tournament. If Cal is looking for long-term success, it may face the Cardinal again during the competition. Friday’s match will set the standard for the level at which the Bears should be able to play, and it may set the tone for their NCAA run.

Sophie Durham covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].

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