An once very promising looking season came to an end on Saturday for Cal Women's Soccer. The Bears lost 2-1 to 9th ranked Santa Clara Broncos to be eliminated in the NCAA playoff.
Bears conceded only the 3rd first half goal of the year (off a free kick), but was able to equalize early in the second half. A breakaway by the Broncos, thanks to a steal by SCU's Brittany Ambrose, led to the tie-breaking goal by Sofia Huerta (Kruger guessed wrong on that play) which was the difference.
Senior goalie Emily Kruger did set a new Cal record for career saves of 279, after getting 6 saves in this match. She eclipsed the old record of 277 held by Maite Zabala (1997-2000).
21:45 Santa Clara -- BIRGEL, Aly (JOHNSTON, Julie)
47:24 Cal -- Lawson, Emi (Mercik, Rachel)
69:09 Santa Clara -- HUERTA, Sofia (AMBROSE, Brittany)
California 6 (Kruger, Emily 6), Santa Clara 6 (TOSTANOSKI, Andi 6)
CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (11-4-5, 4-4-3 Pac-12) at SANTA CLARA BRONCOS (14-4-1, 8-1-0 WCC)
Time: 1 PM PT
Where: Buck Shaw Stadium (Santa Clara)
Live Stream: Santa Clara Website
Match Updates: Twitter (@CalWomensSoccer)
Interactive Bracket: NCAA
Given the love of NCAA committee to minimize travel for teams in the first round (we have two intra-Boston matches in the first round this year, including the 2nd round opponents, should the Bears advance, in Boston University and Harvard), it was perhaps no big surprise that the Bears drew the familiar Santa Clara Broncos, who are currently ranked 9th in the country (and are a 4th seed in this regional). RPI-wise, Santa Clara is only 20th while the Bears are 38th (Furd who the Bears just recently beat is 21st AFTER LOSING TO CAL, by the way).
Back in mid-September, the Bears and the Broncos played to a 1-1 draw at the same field. That match was amidst an undefeated 13 match to open the year for the Cal Bears. Bears were ranked as high as 8th in the country before a late scoring outage to end the season. The late free fall dropped the Bears to 5th in the conference (lost points due to draws rather than wins earlier in the season also didn't help) when they were picked to finish 3rd.
Bears may just have a bit of momentum, however, as they did win their very last match. A thrilling 1-0 OT win over a ranked Stanfurd team that secured the postseason berth for Cal. Watch (or rewatch) senior Rachel Mercik's game winner (and the ensuing celebratory dogpile) below:
Setting a career best 12 saves in the first Santa Clara contest this year and pivotal for the Bears' chances today (and the rest of the way) is Cal senior goalie Emily Kruger. Kruger has a 0.73 goal allowed average per game, including 2 shutouts.
Bears are a great first half team this year, allowing only two first half goals (despite allowing more shots to the opponents than taken in the first half) for the entire season (one came against No.2 UCLA). It is the second half, perhaps due to fatigue, for which that the Bears need to watch out.
In terms of the Cal offense, forward Ifeoma Onumonu is still the points leader for the Bears with 19 (8 goals and 3 assists). Senior Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick has 18 points on 6 goals and 6 assists. Two other Bears, Sam Witteman who had a hat trick in one match and Rachel Mercik, also have 6 goals each for the season. A sign of a balanced attack (particularly early in the year), 9 different Cal Bears have tallied a goal this year.
Three Golden Bears made the all Pac-12 team. Senior defender Emi Lawson made the first team while Onumonu got 2nd team honor. Mercik got an honorable mention.
The Santa Clara Broncos won a share of the WCC title this year. They have a 10-1-1 home record this season with the 1 tie to the Bears and the 1 loss to Stanfurd. Midfielder Jule Johnston is the WCC player of the year for the Broncos. Three players have scored double digit goals. They are Morgan Malborough (14), Sofia Huerta (13) and Julie Johnston (12). Santa Clara did finish the year strong with a 10-1 record (only loss came on the road to No.12 Portland) to close out the regular season.
Keys to the match:
- Jump out to an early lead. Bears need to continue to have shutdown first halves. Bears could also rattle Santa Clara sophomore goalie Andi Tostanoski in her first post season appearance with an early goal.
- Score more than 1 goals. October 6th vs. Arizona is the last match when the Bears scored more than 1 goals. Bears played 8 more matches since then.
- Stop the trio of Malborough, Huerta, and Johnston and prolong the underachieving history of Santa Clara soccer.
The Bears have advanced to the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament every time since the 2nd year of Coach Neil McGuire's tenure in 2007. Let's hope that streak can continue today.
It should be an interesting match that can go either way. If I am going to make a prediction, I think this one may be tied going into OT (where a golden goal in two 10 minutes half would allow a team to advance) but not be resolved until the penalty shootouts (where it is really just a coin flip).
It is playoff time, you either win or your season ends.