Ball don’t lie, but sometimes numbers do, and the scores from Cal field hockey’s two losses this weekend certainly don’t accurately represent the team’s performances.
No. 25 Cal fell to No. 13 Iowa and No. 14 Northwestern this weekend by scores of 4-1 and 2-0, respectively, but the matches were much closer than they seem. The Bears created ample opportunities in both games, but ultimately, the ball simply did not roll in their favor.
“As soon as you get on the board, you just play a little differently, and there’s a tiny bit of luck in these things,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “My whole mantra to the team this weekend was ‘make your own luck’, and balls off the post, things like that — they’re unlucky — but if we put them in, it’s a different game.”
Cal had many such chances to change the courses of both games. Down 2-1 to Iowa to start the second half, Cal had two shots on goal within seven minutes, but back-to-back saves by Iowa goalkeeper Leslie Speight, the nation’s leader in save percentage, kept the Hawkeyes in the lead.
The story was the same against Northwestern; after Cal goalkeeper Natalie Dalton kept the game scoreless with two early saves, the Bears generated two penalty corners midway through the first half and had two more quality shots on goal early in the second half. The Bears failed to convert, however, and the Wildcats capitalized to take the momentum and run away with the victory.
“(We) played a fantastic game today — probably one of the most complete games I’ve seen us play in several years,” Onstead said. “We have to learn how to win them, but we’re doing a lot of really great stuff.”
In particular, Cal drastically reduced the number of penalty corners given up. Coming in to these two matchups, 10 of the 15 goals that the Bears allowed came on or immediately after corner opportunities, but Cal allowed only nine corners and one goal from a corner this weekend.
“We spent some time on some solutions as to how to give up fewer corners, because that was something that really concerned me up until this weekend,” Onstead said. “So (I’m) really proud of the fact that we only gave up three corners against Iowa. … It’s a really good sign for our defense.”
As the defense has shown its improved strength from repeated matchups against top teams, the focus for Onstead now shifts to finding ways to score goals on the offensive end.
“(I) probably spent more time on defense than offense up until now, so now I think we can zero in to the offense,” Onstead said. “Our focus this coming week will definitely be on the attack, and finishing and scoring goals.”
Although Cal’s top-25 welcome party did not yield any wins, Onstead was pleased with her team’s performance and knows the best is yet to come.
“I am really proud of their play,” Onstead said. “I think there’s a lot to look forward to, and we’re just going to stay in the present and keep moving forward.”
Tim Sun covers field hockey. Contact him at