The Tar Heels came out swinging Friday night against the Bears, notching 24 total shots and putting Cal’s defense to the test against a top-ranked team. Despite their 7-0 loss, the Bears have their pens and notepads out, reviewing key takeaways from this game as an opportunity to strengthen their weakest links and enrich their playing style.
With scouting reports and historical data pointing in the direction of a North Carolina win, a victory in Cal’s favor seemed unlikely but not entirely out of the picture. The Bears’ best chance would have been scoring first and shutting down UNC’s top scorers, neither of which were successfully executed in this matchup.
Cal failed to score in the first period — but so did North Carolina, constituting a small victory for the Bears. The Tar Heels have scored in the first 15 minutes in all but one other game. Cal’s defense limited UNC to only four shots in this stretch of time with the help of two saves from gatekeeper Cato Knipping.
The second period was a different story, however.
The Tar Heels’ top scorer, senior Erin Matson, took control in the first few minutes, getting multiple shots off at Knipping before the clock had even reached the 30-second mark. From the top of the circle, Matson recorded her sixth goal of the season to give her team the 1-0 lead, starting an offensive explosion in the succeeding minutes.
She would go on to score the second goal of the game as well — her seventh on the season — followed by three more UNC goals in the period, courtesy of Kennedy Cliggett, Jasmina Smolenaars and Ashley Sessa. UNC rifled 12 shots during the second period, putting nonstop pressure on Cal’s defense.
Before starting the second half of the game, Cal had halftime to take a breather and to readjust based on what it had seen in the first 3o minutes of play. After coming out of their short torpor, the Bears limited the damage, managing to allow about half as many shots as the previous period and only conceding two goals.
In the fourth, Cal finished strong and shut down UNC’s offense, only surrendering one shot that was saved by Knipping. This is the first time all season that the Tar Heels have been limited to only one attempted shot in a period, marking another notable success for the Bears to be proud of in this game. Cal even managed to get three shots off in this period after no attempts up to this point, one of which was shot on goal by Rachel Buttinger.
Although fans did not get to see the Bears upset the Tar Heels like the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates defeating the seemingly unstoppable New York Yankees, meetings like these can still be valuable. It gives Cal the ability to acquire knowledge not only about how to improve its game, but also how to strategize, and what it takes to beat a top competitor. A team like UNC knows how to exploit its opponents’ weaknesses, revealing those shortcomings to Cal to work and improve on.
The blue and gold fall to a 1-4 record on the season, while the Tar Heels improve to 5-0. Fans should be on the lookout for when these teams meet again, as Cal is still in search of its first goal against UNC. The chances of the Bears getting their revenge and handing the beating back to the Tar Heels in a future matchup is on ice if Cal refines its play on both sides of the field and uses its talent to its full potential.
For now, only time will tell if the Bears can learn from this experience and patch the gaps in their playing as the 2022 season progresses.