“It’s emotional, but it’s a sadness and happiness all rolled into one,” said Cal head coach Brooke Eubanks about seeing the players she watched grow up in front of her very eyes step off the field one last time.
Seniors were hugging their families, taking pictures with their teammates, putting graduation leis around their necks and soaking in their final moments on the field of California Memorial Stadium.
“I’m proud of the growth (the seniors) have shown as individuals and a class. It’s sad because it means they are parting ways with us,” Eubanks said with a smile on her face. “But it’s happy, again, because it means they are moving on to the next chapter of their lives.”
Cal’s final home game versus its rival in No. 21 Stanford was chock-full of emotions. As the announcer called the seniors’ names one final time to the applause of the crowd and to the cheers of the Bears’ high-five tunnel, Cal lacrosse had one goal on its mind: Make the game feel special.
Unfortunately for the team, the mood was dampened immediately by an unfortunate injury to freshman Kennedy Mason. No more than three minutes into the contest, Mason was cutting to the goal with the ball in her basket when a Stanford player checked her in the shoulder-neck area, knocking her off her feet.
Mason tried to get up after the foul was assessed, but laid back down, somewhat motionless. The training staff rushed onto the field before concluding, after an extended amount of time, that Mason required an ambulance. She was subsequently stretchered off the field and taken to a local hospital for further evaluation. It was an extremely scary sight for the team, especially considering that Mason is senior Quinnlyn Mason’s sister.
Play resumed after the extended break with Liz Scott trading goals with Stanford’s Ali Baiocco in the first quarter. Mason’s injury foreshadowed the physicality with which the two teams would play. The first quarter was extremely chippy and tightly contested, with fouls flying left and right, leading to several free position shots for both sides. While Cal could not convert on every free position shot, Stanford took full advantage of these opportunities, taking an early 4-3 lead by the end of the first.
From there, the game slipped out of the Bears’ hands. Stanford ran through the Bears’ defense with six goals to Cal’s one, a stampede of goals led by Annabel Frist with three of those goals in her own right. The Bears attempted to mount a comeback in the second half but were stifled by an uber-aggressive Stanford team fighting for a better seed in the Pac-12 tournament. However, the Bears weren’t blown off the field versus a very talented, nationally ranked lacrosse team, finishing the game with an 11-18 loss.
“Stanford is obviously a good team with them being co-winners of the Pac-12 regular season championship,” Eubanks stated after the game. “The team played very well. We were able to ride the waves of the quarters. … Overall, I am very proud of the team for being able to put three strong quarters together against a very strong team.”
But as much as the team wanted to get a win for the seniors, the game wasn’t really about that. It was about making it a special goodbye, and on that front, the Bears converted. For one Bear in particular, the player with both the all-time assist record in Cal lacrosse history and the most games played in Cal lacrosse history, this final game was storybook.
Nikki Zaccaro, a player who will be remembered as a Cal lacrosse legend moving forward, played a special game. She finished with one goal and two assists, adding to that all-time assists record, but also finishing her final home game in style. Fittingly, her last two home game assists were to Liz Scott, reinforcing a truly special connection built over thousands of hours.
“Bringing her in has been great,” Zaccaro said after being asked what it meant to have her final home game assist be to Scott. “She’s an awesome person, great teammate, great roommate and being able to connect with her has definitely been a highlight for us … Each (assist) is special and being able to get that last one here (at California Memorial Stadium) summarizes my career.”
Zaccaro was full of emotions as she stepped off the field one last time. Those emotions of happiness, sadness and pride were all rolled up into one.
“It will take some time to set in,” Zaccaro said as she hugged her coach. “A lot of memories on this field, regardless of the actual games we have, the Cal lacrosse experience is once in a lifetime and to get another year here, another year with another class… It will all set in eventually.”
Of Zaccaro’s many memories with Cal lacrosse, she cited the 2019 comeback win against Arizona State, in which she scored the game winner in overtime, as her favorite. It’s a fitting memory because Cal lacrosse will face the Sun Devils in the first round of the tournament, an opportunity for a Cinderella-story upset.
“Anything can happen,” Zaccaro said as she left the field one last time.