Cal field hockey prepares to face even more ranked opponents

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A slow start for Cal field hockey may be what is reflected by the team’s 1-2 record, but the Bears have recently played much better than their record shows — including a close loss Sunday to No. 7 Michigan in which Cal played up to the level of its ranked opponent.

The team will take on Iowa and Duke this weekend with a chance to redeem themselves from last week’s blunders. Both games are going to be played in Iowa City, with the Iowa game Friday followed by Duke on Saturday.

The road trip will be Cal’s first time traveling far from home this season, as the Bears have played all three of their first games in the Bay Area with one neutral site game at Stanford and the other at Cal’s own Underhill Field.

More ranked opponents are on the horizon for Cal: Iowa is now ranked No. 7 and Duke is sitting near the top almost every poll at No. 2. Cal dominated the first half against Michigan, but fell asleep in the second — something the team will be looking to correct as they head to Iowa.

“We just couldn’t settle things down in the second half,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “We got too ramped up into their frantic pace, and didn’t get our feet under us to get the ball out of the back end. We have to be a little more calm in that moment. We stayed calm under pressure in the first half. We just need to maintain that in games like this and we’ll be fine.”

The Bears will surely be looking to maintain a high performance level throughout both matches this weekend, especially if the team hopes to correct its history of poor play against these two sides. Cal holds a 1-12 all-time record against Iowa and a winless 0-7 all-time record against Duke.

Cal hasn’t beat a ranked opponent since they took down rival Stanford in 2017, ranked No. 14 at the time. If this pattern of failing to upset opponents continues, the Bears will fall to 1-4 on the season, its worst start through five games since 2016.

Given how Cal played against Michigan, the Bears should have a pretty good shot at upsetting the Hawkeyes. Fans shouldn’t be too optimistic about an upset against the Blue Devils, though, as Duke is 4-0 — beating only ranked opponents thus far.

A victory over Iowa would be a huge confidence boost for Cal as the team progresses further into the season, and it isn’t too wild for Cal to dream of achieving this feat.

If Cal can split the series this weekend, going 1-1 and coming out with their first victory against a ranked opponent in two years, it will be important: Conference play is slated to start later this month.

Jack Whaley is the assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @_jackdouglas_.