Despite losing both games this past weekend, the team that lost to Stanford was almost unrecognizable to the team that lost to Liberty two days later. Where one team was utterly dominated from the onset of the game, the other managed to cling to the very end. The results were the same but Cal’s levels of competitiveness were entirely different.
On March 11, the Bears traveled down the peninsula to open Pac-12 play against Stanford. Like most matches against the Cardinal, Cal was a heavy underdog entering the game. Shockingly, the Bears haven’t beaten Stanford in lacrosse since April 22, 2000. It has been 22 years since Cal has defeated its Bay Area rival. And Stanford’s dominance over Cal for this entire century continued this weekend.
The Bears maintained a tightly contested match in the first quarter, managing three goals to Stanford’s five. But like most Cal lacrosse games, the Bears were undone in the second quarter. The blue and gold conceded four consecutive goals to Stanford in the first five minutes of the second, falling to a 9-3 deficit by the 10-minute mark. Stanford players Annabel Frist and Ashley Humphrey led the charge, with each of them earning a hat trick by the end of the second quarter. The point of emphasis going into this weekend was managing a level of consistency between quarters.
“(Our goals were) winning the quarter. And focusing on small chunks of the game,” said Cal head coach Brooke Eubanks. “Just being able to string winning those quarters back to back.”
The Bears were unable to do so and the 13-5 deficit at halftime was indicative of that.
Cal wound up losing to Stanford 20-8 but found some solace in the fact that midfielder Maya Lawliss scored four of its eight goals, earning her own hat trick in the loss. With few positives to turn to, the Bears carried that offensive surge over to the Liberty game.
Unlike the Stanford game, Cal’s performance against Liberty was competitive all the way through. Liberty opened the game with three consecutive goals and it looked rather dicey for a Bears team that was just beaten by double digits. But Cal held tight. Liz Scott and Lawliss kept the Bears within arm’s reach by the time the dreaded second quarter came around. But each time the Flames looked to break the game open, the Bears were right there to quell them thanks in part to Olivia Dey, who scored two goals in the last five minutes of the quarter to keep the game at 7-5 entering halftime.
“We were able to put back to back plays together which helped with the momentum. We started (down) 0-3 which is hard, and that can be a moment where (you ask), ‘Are the wheels gonna fall or are we going to keep them on?’ ” Eubanks said in regards to the team’s consistency. “With having some struggles so far this year, being able to battle back from an 0-3 and bring it back to 3-4 is huge from a mental side.”
For what felt like the first time all year, Cal played a complete half.
The team carried that momentum into the third quarter, led by Nikki Zaccaro, who had a career day with five assists and two goals, including a shot down the gut of the Flames’ defense that cut the score to a single possession at 8-7. But Liberty remained stalwart. For every Bears score, the Flames answered back, finding the net on several counterattacks and thwarting Cal’s attempts to tie the game. And the Flames outlasted the Bears, pulling away in the final two minutes of the third with consecutive goals to take a 10-7 lead.
It was Flames attacker Jordan Baerga who kept the Bears at bay. On top of scoring a goal towards the end of the third quarter, she capped off a 3-0 run by Liberty to extend its lead to five. Zaccaro netted two assists in the Bears’ comeback bid, but two timely goals by Tori Banks put the game out of reach.
Despite the loss, the team gleaned some positives from the match.
“Not the outcome we wanted, but it was a good positive step in the right direction,” Zaccaro said. “It was a good chemistry day. It’s seven people together to make a unit, we don’t want to play as individuals.
Through four quarters, the Bears won the battle in ground balls and draw control. They won the 50-50 battles that plagued them in previous weeks, which was something Eubanks was proud of the team for working towards. It was one of the points of emphasis throughout the bye week. The Bears also scored a season-high 13 goals from 10 different players, an offensive renaissance from the entire team.
“We played a full game; we haven’t done that in a while,” Scott said.
The Bears look to maintain that consistency as they face USC and Arizona State next week.