Tournament underdogs: 6th seed Bears face 3rd seed Arizona State

Photo of Cal Women's Lacrosse team
Anthony Angel Pérez/Staff

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Cal Lacrosse’s postseason journey will begin at Sun Devil Stadium where the team will face off against Arizona State. It’s a journey that has the potential to become a Cinderella story in just a single game. Or, it’s a journey that can end as quick as it began as the sixth-seeded Bears face a third-seeded Sun Devils team that has beaten them twice already this year.

The Sun Devils finished the season ranked 21st in the country, finishing 9-7 in conference and 7-3 in the Pac-12. This marks a Pac-12 competition program best for Arizona State. This may be attributed to the fact that the Sun Devils boast a three-headed hydra when it comes to scoring.

Led by Carley Adams (44 goals, 69 points), Emily Glagolev (40 goals, 73 points) and Taylor Pinzone (37 goals, 49 points), this trio can take turns torching a defense, something Cal experienced firsthand. They combined for 19 goals in the two matches versus the Bears –– 19 goals to their 39 total goals. If Cal wants any chance of stopping this team, they have to limit this fearsome trio.

But Arizona State isn’t 21st in the nation just because of its offense. Its defense is ironclad; led by freshman goalkeeper Katie Vahle, the Sun Devil defense has limited its opponents to 205 goals this season, keeping them net positive in goals scored to opponents’ goals scored.

For context, the Bears gave up a whopping 287 goals this season while the other bottom of the barrel Pac-12 team, the Oregon Ducks, allowed 239 goals. Arizona State’s Vahle has 130 saves made this year — sixth in the nation by a freshman — and has been named Pac-12 Defender of the Week four times this season. This is a team that Cal will have to fight to keep up with offensively and defensively.

But the Bears have successfully gone toe to toe with the Sun Devils in the past. Liz Scott will be the key to unlocking everything that Cal hopes to do in its effort to crack Arizona State’s steel curtain defense. In their first meeting, Scott netted a career-best seven goals, a game in which she dominated and the Bears only lost 21-18. The offensive gene remains strong within her, and she will need to utilize that to upset Arizona State.

Cal also has several hidden factors that can swing the difference here. No list of said factors can leave off Bears all-time games and assist leader Nikki Zaccaro. While Zaccaro was relatively quiet in the first two meetings, to her standards at least, she quarterbacks this offense and she can lead Scott to the promised land with her assist-making potential. The other player to watch is Maya Lawliss. Lawliss had a breakout season with 29 goals and will be needed as a secondary scoring option.

But the arguably most important player in this matchup is the Bears’ own goalie: Riley Drullinger. Drullinger had a quiet start to the season, but by the end of it, she was in full form. She recorded 14 saves in the final game versus Stanford, keeping them alive til the very end.

“Huge saves by Riley,” said Cal lacrosse head coach Brooke Eubanks. “14 is a high amount of saves and when you think about the types of saves she was making as well, she was making the saves she needed to and she was coming up with some huge saves where most goalies might not have made the saves.”

Drullinger has the ability to come up with miracle stops here and there, but the rest of the defense can assist her by avoiding situations where she must make a save in the first place. While Drullinger recorded 14 saves versus Stanford, the front line of Cal’s defense still allowed 32 shots on goal. You can be the best goalie in the world, but if a team has an absorbent amount of chances to fire, it will not matter.

The Bears are heavy underdogs in this match, and in the tournament as a whole. But Cal’s tenacity and perseverance does not match their 2-15 record. The winner of this game will face the second-seeded USC Trojans. But like Zaccaro said, “Anything can happen,” and the Bears have the fight to make that “anything” happen.

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