Cal women’s soccer will kick off Pac-12 play this Friday, away at Washington.
The Bears finished their nonconference schedule with a record of three wins, three losses and two draws. Cal’s performances were marked by inconsistency. Heavy defeats away to Tennessee and No. 1 UNC exposed the team’s defensive frailties, but the blue and gold bounced back with dominant home wins against USF and Cal Poly.
A dogged defensive showing earned a draw with local rivals Santa Clara, ranked eighth nationally at the time. The Bears were unable to build on this result — losing late at home to Cal State Fullerton and drawing one-all with Utah Valley.
Following a 2-1 turnaround win against San Diego, the Bears will at least bring some momentum to the Emerald City. Despite outshooting the Toreros 7-4 in the first half, the Bears found themselves 0-1 down at the break. Undeterred, junior forward Karlie Lema parted the San Diego defense with a perfect pass to forward Mia Fontana. The fifth-year fired home to level the score at 1-1 in the 54th minute.
With 69 minutes on the clock, senior forward Abby Borchers latched onto freshman Miriam Hils’ lofted ball. Borchers found junior forward Velize King, who tapped it in to complete the comeback.
Following Keely Roy’s graduate transfer to USC, Lema has quickly emerged as the Bears’ talisman. She leads the squad in goal contributions with five: three goals and two assists — both also team highs. The former U.S. youth international combines incisive passing with clever movement and clinical finishing — she’s Cal’s answer to England captain Harry Kane, and the Huskies will have to keep her quiet.
Hils has been the standout in Cal’s promising freshman class. She was a part of the Germany squad that finished runners-up behind Spain at the 2023 UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship and has already shown that prowess in her brief Cal career. Apart from her composed defending, she has a wide passing range and acute technique. She proved both with her pass that led to Cal’s winner in San Diego, and both are key qualities in the modern defender.
That said, Washington will pose a stern test for Lema, Hils and their fellow Bears. The Huskies sit 5-1-2 ahead of the matchup, albeit with their only loss to No. 13 Santa Clara — a 5-1 defeat. Notably, Washington and Cal have both met San Diego in nonconference play, with the Huskies tearing the Toreros apart in a 5-0 win.
Washington’s key player is true freshman Jadyn Holdenried. Hailing from Windsor, California, Holdenried has tallied six goal involvements this campaign — three goals and three assists. She’s especially dangerous from the edge of the box. She netted from 18 yards to open the scoring in an eventual 2-1 win over Air Force, having already scored from 20 yards for UW’s second in a 3-1 win at Idaho.
Holdenried leads a talented batch of underclassmen in purple and gold. Freshman forward Radisson Banks has three goals and one assist this season — her experience as a point guard in basketball has evidently helped her reading of the game. Sophomore defender Riley Brown provides a potent threat on dead balls, having assisted three goals from corners so far. Ioanna Papatheodorou, a junior transfer from UMass Lowell, complements her younger peers with veteran experience, on top of her two goals and one assist to this point.
As a team, the Huskies average 14 shots per game; well clear of the Bears at 10.5. Cal’s defense, marshaled by sophomore goalkeeper Teagan Wy, will be tested by the home team.
After this clash with Washington, the Bears return to Berkeley to face two schools from the Grand Canyon State. Cal will welcome Arizona to Edwards Stadium on Sept. 28. Arizona State will follow that Sunday, Oct. 1.