For nearly a year, Cal lacrosse has been waiting to make its return to competition. That time has come at long last. Now, the Bears are hungrier than ever, looking to become predators after playing more like prey in their abbreviated 2020 season.
Friday marks Cal’s long-awaited return. The blue and gold will play against UC Davis at home in Memorial Stadium, and two days later, they’ll return to battle San Diego State.
The Bears and Aggies last saw each other on Valentine’s Day 2020, though the Bears hardly felt the love in that game. They will look to avenge a 6-9 defeat, in which UC Davis’ Maddie Myers scored six of the Aggies’ nine goals. If there is one takeaway, it’s that if Cal is going to exorcise its demons from last year, it will have to put on a monstrous offensive performance. Over the past 10 years, the Bears have averaged 15 goals per game in wins but only 6.5 goals per game in losses against UC Davis.
The blue and gold certainly have the tools to put up big numbers on offense. In the last five games before the unceremonious ending of the 2020 season, Cal averaged 11.4 goals per game, with its lowest output in that span coming against undefeated USC.
On Sunday, Cal will return to Memorial Stadium to play San Diego State, against whom it has dropped their last four meetings. The two teams’ most recent duel was a 16-11 shootout in San Diego almost exactly one year ago. Attacker Quinnlyn Mason had a career-high four goals, but the Bears were ultimately unable to prevail. A positive that Cal can take into its game against SDSU is that in two of the squads’ last three meetings, the Bears had a positive turnover differential (plus-2 in 2020 and plus-3 in 2018). However, their defense has struggled in the past four meetings, allowing no fewer than 12 goals in each of those games.
Working in Cal’s favor is one factor: experience. The Bears will waste no time trying to develop chemistry among their defensive core, as all but one defender have had at least one year of playing experience on the team. Defenders Kamryn Lanier, LizaBanks Campagna and Marina Smith are entering their fourth year on the team, so the blue and gold will have loads of chemistry and experience on their side heading into Sunday’s matchup. And even though there will be no fans in Memorial Stadium, the Bears have the advantage of starting their season in a comfortable and familiar environment.
With nearly a full calendar year between seasons, Cal is undoubtedly eager to get back on the field. Although a season without fans in the stands signifies the start of a new era, new beginnings always carry the chance for new successes and the erasure of old struggles. While Friday kicks off an unprecedented season, the Bears have a chance to reinvent themselves this spring.
Ali Fazal covers lacrosse. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.