For the first 76 minutes, neither team was willing to give in — Cal and Utah were locked in a 0-0 tie as both teams fought to end their respective Pac-12 losing streaks.
Then, Karlie Lema happened.
The freshman phenom took an arcing pass from Rilee Harmon, made a quick maneuver to create space for a shot, before depositing the ball into the top bins.
“Kalie Lema is our leading goalscorer. As a freshman, that’s an impressive statistic,” said head coach Neil McGuire. “Plus the other array of strikers that we have that are totally capable of doing great things at this conference. We just have to continue to support them to make sure that we help them execute as best they can.”
Lema was a menace on the Utah side of the field Friday, contributing three of Cal’s six shots in the match, including that game winner. The Bay Area local continues to solidify herself as the top option on offense, now with double the amount of points as the next closest Bear.
Her goal would prove decisive in the game, as the Bears kept the Utes scoreless for the rest of the match. It goes down as the stout defense’s fifth shoutout on the season, as the Cal backline continues to play well.
The defense remained tough despite an inspired attack from Utah, which posted 11 shots on the day. It was especially tough sledding in the first half, as the Bears were outshot 8-1.
Junior goalie Angelina Anderson was the X-factor for keeping the Utes off the scoreboard, continuing her recent run of solid games with three saves in the first half. Anderson also had help from Emily Smith and Paige Metayer, both of whom made pivotal stops in the first period to prevent Utah goal scoring opportunities.
The Bear defense was able to settle in even more after the motivating, tie breaking goal, as Cal ceded just three more shots in the last half.
When the final whistle sounded, the blue and gold found themselves in a much better position than they were just 90 minutes prior. With the win, the Bears, who are 2-3-1 in the Pac-12, added three points to their conference total, which now sits at seven.
Though its efforts are good for just eighth in the Pac-12, Cal sits just one win out of fifth place in one of the best soccer conferences in the nation. And with two games against bottom dwellers — Arizona and Arizona State — on the docket for next week, the Bears have a solid chance of making a late season push towards the postseason.
“We’ve been actually very proud of many of the overall game performances,” McGuire said. “We have played really well. And so we want to build on those strengths.”
Cal is running out of time, though, as just five games over three weeks remain on the schedule. The Bears will need to string together a few wins, no small task against the likes of UCLA, USC and Stanford, who patrol the top of the Pac-12 standings.
This win should serve as a stepping stone to greater achievements, however, as Lema and the rest of the young Cal team continue to improve on an already impressive 2021 season.
Noah Parker covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].