In the 54th minute of Cal’s match against San Francisco, blue and gold freshman Ari Manrique attempted to break a scoreless tie and put the Bears ahead. Her shot careened off the hands of the Dons’ keeper Molly Eby, but Manrique’s teammate and fellow freshman Karlie Lema had other plans. As the ball bounced toward her feet, she pulled her foot back and lightly tapped the ball in off the rebound to put Cal ahead.
The goal, which proved to be the eventual game-winner, mirrored the way in which the blue and gold has found success this season: through their No. 1 recruiting class. Lema is the team leader for the Bears in goals, points and shots. A Cal freshman has earned a point — which can be either a goal or assist — in four of the team’s five games played.
“We’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many good players. The freshman class is very talented,” said head coach Neil McGuire before praising the returning members of the squad as well. “All of our players play a certain style and certain brand — it feels like it’s coming together.”
The Bears’ talented roster will finally have a chance to come together Sept. 9 against Sacramento State (1-3-1) and defending NCAA champions Santa Clara (3-1-2) on Sept. 12. While the Bears have prior experience against the Broncos in a game that ended as a 1-1 draw, they are facing off against the Hornets for the first time this season.
Sacramento State is coming off of a 3-0 shutout win against Nevada, where the Hornets were held scoreless late into the second half until they netted multiple goals — including two in a span of 25 seconds — to bring home their first win of the season. The Bears are expected to display their improved offensive attack, which has almost doubled their average goal output per game from last season. They have also averaged nearly twice as many shots per game this season than their Northern California counterparts, who are yet to secure a road victory this season.
McGuire spoke highly of Cal’s home-field advantage, which will take a one-match hiatus after Thursday’s game:
“Edwards is our home,” McGuire said. “Clearly, this is hallowed ground for men’s rugby, and Jack Connor’s program has had many successes there.”
Following their match against the Hornets, the blue and gold will don their colors once again for a road tilt against Santa Clara. Their last meeting featured chippy competition, as 23 fouls were called and three yellow cards were given out to players. While Cal keeper and junior Angelina Anderson will reprise her role as the team’s last line of defense against the Broncos, she will no doubt be tested against the staunch offensive firepower of Santa Clara — whose 18 shots Aug. 22 is its season best.
The Bears’ backup keeper and junior Makena Smith was busy all day long during the Aug. 22 game, as her seven saves represented the highest single-game tally for the Bears this season. Santa Clara’s offensive attack is led by redshirt senior Kelsey Turnbow, who has eight points (three goals, two assists) throughout six games for the Broncos.
Luckily, the Bears’ defense has proved to be tough throughout the season. The back line allowed no shots on goal for USF last Thursday and repeatedly displayed a penchant for recovery when the Dons created chances. The Bears have also not allowed a goal in either road game they played.
With chances to continue finding their groove, the Bears are giving their fans the potential to witness an exciting stretch of matches. With one game left in Edwards Stadium before heading south to Santa Clara, Cal will look to end its homestand on a positive note and come out of a one-game stop victorious. It’s more than halfway through their outer-conference opening set, but with additional teams lurking on the horizon, the Bears are hungry for more.
Ali Fazal covers women’s soccer. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.