Members of the Cal women’s soccer team travel to Oklahoma in an attempt to claim what they feel is rightly theirs. Unlike early settlers of the Sooner State, they are not in search for up to 160 acres of land, but two potential victories on the soccer pitch — against No. 21 Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
After one dominant victory against Harvard and a difficult overtime loss to UCSB, the Bears must shift their mindset from defending home turf to scrapping for victories on the road. As if the initial 1,686-mile journey to Stillwater wasn’t daunting enough, Cal will take on Oklahoma State on Friday, the best team in the Big 12 conference last season.
This Cowgirl squad looks to be one of the most complete teams that the Bears have yet to face. Last season, they finished with a 16-4-3 record that propelled them to a second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma State began this season 4-1 overall and 3-0 at home and is currently riding a 13-game unbeaten streak at home since October 2016.
On the other side, Cal continues to develop consistent, tactical cohesiveness on all parts of the pitch. Despite playing dominant soccer for the majority of the season, occasional lapses have burned the Bears by limiting their ability to put teams away offensively and causing them to concede several unnecessary goals.
Oklahoma State has made a living exploiting its opponents’ lapses this season, already exhibiting a 10-3 goal differential. Senior Haley Woodard led the Cowgirls in scoring last season with eight goals, and she has already tallied two in the team’s first five games. In order to shut down Oklahoma State’s venomous attack, Cal needs to tighten its defense around Woodard in the process.
On the defensive end, freshman keeper Hannah Warner posts a 0.917 save percentage for the Cowgirls, which is good for the top 20 in all of women’s college soccer.
As formidable as Oklahoma State looks, its worst regular-season loss in recent memory actually came against Cal last season. If the Bears’ 3-0 shutout says anything, it’s that they are capable of cracking the Cowgirl code.
On Sunday, Cal will complete its Oklahoma tour with a short trip to Norman and the University of Oklahoma. While the Sooners don’t look quite as daunting as their in-state rival on paper, they could definitely give the Bears a run for their money.
Oklahoma finished eighth in the Big 12 last season with a 1-5-3 conference record and began this season at 1-3-1. That said, the Sooners dropped two competitive road games to Oklahoma State and No. 8 Texas A&M, so several early, hard-fought matches should prepare them well for a stiff competitor like the Bears. Cal also defeated Oklahoma in Berkeley last season in a 2-0 win.
The Oklahoma series will be Cal’s first games outside of the Bay Area this season, and while the sheer mileage of the road trip will be a challenge in itself, the Bears will face a perennial postseason contender and a battle-tested squad in the middle of it. If history is any indication, however, Cal could emerge from the weekend with two solid wins.
Max Mennemeier covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].