Fun or frantic: Cal hosts USC and Arizona State

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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After losses to Stanford and Liberty the past weekend, the Bears hope to rebound versus their next set of opponents, USC and Arizona State. The loss to Stanford especially stings as it sets Cal at 0-1 in Pac-12 conference play. 

Not the start they were looking for. 

Fortunately, the Bears enter the Pac-12 double-header fresh off of their best offensive performance of the season thus far. Their 13 goals versus Liberty, spread across 10 different players, is their highest scoring output of the winless season thus far. 

The Bears are riding their offensive moment thanks in part to career weekends from several of their players. Maya Lawliss had a team-high six goals last weekend, including a hat trick in the form of four goals versus Stanford. Nikki Zaccaro had a career day against the Flames, netting five assists to her teammates on top of two goals of her own. Match those two with the seasons Liz Scott and Amanda Morse are having and the Bears boast a dangerous offense ready to explode at any moment. 

The only question is will that explosion come this weekend, and will it be enough?

On Friday, March 19, the No. 15 ranked Trojans come marching into FTX Field having never lost to the Bears. Granted, USC only started competing in women’s lacrosse in 2013, but it boasts an undefeated 12-win record versus Cal in its short history of competition. 

The Trojans hope to build on their fantastic 5-1 start that includes quality wins over ranked teams in Jacksonville and Colorado. The Bears will have to quiet star midfielder Kelsey Huff, who leads USC in goals with 24, if they hope to have any chance of winning. Huff earned Pac-12 offensive player of the week after netting 16 goals over three games. 

Two days later, the Bears welcomed a Sun Devils team coming off of three consecutive wins, including two against Pac-12 competition. 

This Arizona State team is a great barometer for measuring whether or not the Bears’ latest offensive success is an aberration. They boast a strong defensive front, allowing only 48 goals so far this season. This ironclad defense is led by freshman goalkeeper Katie Vahle, who despite only playing five collegiate-level games thus far has two Pac-12 defensive player of the week awards to her name. In the Sun Devils’ game against Oregon, Vahle recorded 10 saves, which proved critical in their 11-9 victory over the Ducks. 

Although the Bears face a daunting task against two Pac-12 juggernauts, the team is confident it can repeat its excellent play from the Liberty game moving forward.

“We’re ready for (the) Pac-12. This gave us confidence to realize we can hang with these teams,” Scott said.

Scott is correct about the team’s grittiness. The Liberty game was the first match all season where the Bears hung tight all game long, refusing to break in moments where the Flames had them on the backfoot. With grit comes consistency, something coach Brooke Eubanks has emphasized all season long. 

“Watching what worked and why it worked and building (our) confidence is going to be huge,” Eubanks said. “Every Pac-12 game, no matter whether it is the first ranked or last ranked opponent, every game is going to be a battle.”

The Liberty match could be a catalyst for the Bears desperate for their first win of the season. Or it could fade into the melange of losses this season, becoming nothing more than an L in the loss column. 

It all depends on how Cal battles this weekend versus two teams with arguably the best offensive and defensive players respectively. This week can be where the fun begins for the Bears. Or it can be where they add two more losses to the seven they’ve accumulated thus far.

Kenzo Fukuda covers lacrosse. Contact him at [email protected].