Cal field hockey looks to get back on track with start of conference play

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The top-25 ranking was nice while it lasted, but after a 0-2 road trip, Cal field hockey is back on the outside looking in. This Sunday, the 3-5 Bears will seek to bounce back from their disappointing weekend with the start of conference play against the University of the Pacific.

The Tigers (6-4) are paced on offense by senior forward Kriekie van Wyk, a two-time All American and two-time reigning America East Offensive Player of the Year. Van Wyk has scored 10 goals in Pacific’s 10 contests this season, with 54 shots and 35 on goal.

Behind van Wyk is a steady supporting cast: Four players have scored multiple times this season, and five more have added a single goal. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Marlise van Tonder ranks in the top 10 in the nation in save percentage and anchors a defense that has earned three shutouts this year.

Like the Bears, the Tigers have faced off with some of the country’s top teams. Early in the season, Pacific fell 3-0 to now-No. 3 Maryland but has gone down to the wire with No. 6 Michigan and No. 11 Syracuse, losing in overtime both times. The Tigers actually led last weekend’s matchup against the Orange 2-0 at halftime, but a late goal from Syracuse after a Pacific green card sent the game to the decisive extra period.

When comparing the Tigers to the Bears based on mutual opponents, Cal holds the advantage. Both teams were shut out by Maryland, but Cal defeated Providence handily while Pacific prevailed by just a single goal. Cal also won a close game against Miami (Ohio), whereas Pacific lost 3-1.

Sunday’s game, therefore, will serve as a good opportunity for the Bears to get back on track. Cal has lost four of its last five games, and the team’s offense has been stagnant for most of the season. The Bears have managed to score just 11 goals in eight games, and sophomore forward Megan Rodgers is the only player who has found the back of the net more than once.

Of course, the competition has been tough, but the Bears are playing against elite teams, keeping most games close. Defensively, play has also been strong, but Cal’s offense just simply has not been able to help the defense out with early scores.

The Bears have yet to score a goal in the first 25 minutes of any game, and this lack of first-half activity puts additional pressure on the defense. It’s not that Cal starts slow, either — head coach Shellie Onstead is often happy with the way her team competes from start to finish. The Bears just do not have the goals to show for it.

Onstead highlighted that the team’s focus this week would be on the offensive side of the ball, as not generating goals was previously seen as bad luck but is now a genuine area of concern. Whether it is feeding Rodgers more often or creating more systematic opportunities for the entire team, it will be interesting to see how the Bears attempt to solve their offense woes this Sunday.

Tim Sun covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected].