A half-hour coast along California state Route 34 is all that separates UC Berkeley and Saint Mary’s. However, it was nearly five years before both women’s soccer teams would meet on the same pitch. That time difference, along with the location, provided added motivation for the blue and gold.
“We did not want to lose that game, given that they’re our neighbors,” said sophomore forward Amaya Gray. “We just had to stay calm and do what we knew … get that last goal in there.”
The Bears did not win, but they were still able to extend their unbeaten season as they came away with a 1-1 draw in their home stadium. Junior Taylour Mendoza opened the scoring for the Gaels and pocketed an outside shot toward the top right corner of the goal beyond the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Angelina Anderson. Throughout the game, the Gaels demonstrated an aggressive style stemming from a desire to keep their own unbeaten season alive.
Cal was able to apply some pressure of its own. It finished the match with 12 corners, seven of which came in the first half. Unfortunately, though, its early chances did not materialize. Most notably, the Bears were unable to convert on three corners awarded in the last five minutes of the half.
The momentum shifted when a red card — called against senior defender Maya Alcantara in the 71st minute — allowed Cal to press more frequently for the remainder of the game. Eventually, that pressure resulted in an equalizer for the Bears, as senior defender Sydney Collins’ cross was the impetus for Gray’s header in the 83rd minute.
“We knew that we had to give it our all,” Gray said. “We just kind of broke through and just gave it everything we could.”
While Cal must strive to improve its first-half offense, extra time provided sparks of what it can bring for future games. The Bears dominated possession in both halves of the overtime period and fired off four total shots. The Gaels, meanwhile, did not shoot the ball once in the extra period. Their ability to convert on chances still left something to be desired.
Collins had a chance to net the golden goal, but the Gaels’ sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Poland got her hands on the ball at the last second for a save. With less than a minute remaining in the second half of overtime, sophomore forward Anysa Gray’s strike to the top right was once again saved by Poland.
In addition to serving as a test against a tough nonconference team, the neighborhood rivalry was a contest between two similar teams, so it only makes sense that a draw was the ultimate outcome. Like Cal, Saint Mary’s’ offense is more effective in the second half. In three of its four games this season, including Sunday’s contest, all scores came after the first 45 minutes.
Both teams also brought stifling defenses, as neither team had allowed multiple goals in any game before this match. The final result allows the blue and gold to make tweaks to their strategy after seeing how a similar team would counter. As Gray notes, however, the biggest task to set the team up for success is learning how to believe in themselves.
“We just need to like really believe in ourselves and believe in our team and know what we can do. … We are capable of winning every single game that comes our way and overcom(ing) every obstacle,” Gray said.
For their next match, the Bears will have the luxury of remaining in Berkeley in a Thursday afternoon tilt against San Francisco, which sports a 1-0-1 overall record. The last time the two teams met in 2017, the club snapped a 12-game winless streak after upsetting Cal 1-0. The Dons will undoubtedly be looking to extend their win streak, but as the Bears have shown, they possess all the tools required in overcoming adversity.
Ali Fazal covers women’s soccer. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.