Bears Look to Buck the Broncos in Nor-Cal Tilt

Photo: Megan Jesolva is one of two Cal players to play every minute of both games this season. The senior is healthy after a tough junior year.
Anna Vignet/File
Megan Jesolva is one of two Cal players to play every minute of both games this season. The senior is healthy after a tough junior year.

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The gloves come off for the Cal women's soccer team this afternoon, as No. 8 Santa Clara visits Edwards Stadium for a much-anticipated 4 p.m. match-up.

the Pac-10, their rivalry with the Bears has all the intensity of Cal-Stanford.

"Whenever we play (the Broncos), it's always like a nail-scraping game," captain Emily Shibata said.

Last year was a perfect example - the teams fought through two overtime periods, only to emerge with a 1-1 tie.

For the Bears, an opportunity to prove themselves against such a nationally prominent team raises the stakes of a game that has no bearing on conference standing.

"(Santa Clara is) always a top-ranked team," Shibata said. "It's always one of those games where we want to know we're the better team."

The fact the Broncos (2-0) are such a national powerhouse also makes the game an important step towards success for later in the season. Cal coach Neil McGuire said the game is important for gauging how his squad will do in the Pac-10 and NCAA tournament. The Bears have enjoyed relative success in their last few trips to the Big Dance, but a tilt with a title contender like the Broncos this early in the season puts an entirely new spin on this game.

A chance to see how the two schools stack up so early in the year could be a crucial insight into the 2010 season because of how much their rosters have changed. The Bears lost nine total players from 2009, while the Broncos lost 12 - and both teams are replacing seven starters.

The spotlight may fall on both teams' respective freshmen, who have already played key roles this fall - but who McGuire said may be challenged by such an early high-profile game.

"If we're looking at any obstacle, it's just how our young players deal with the perceived pressure of the match, dealing with a cross-town rival, a national perennial powerhouse," he said. "But ultimately I'm very confident in our younger players."

The perceived pressure won't likely compare to the offensive pressure the Bears have been preparing to face against Santa Clara.

"Their pace up top is definitely gonna be a challenge," Shibata said. "I know they have a couple fast forwards, so we're all just gonna have to be on the same page and cover one another."

Sophomore Betsy Hassett said the team needs to watch for the Broncos playing long direct balls into the offensive end. Santa Clara could continue its perfect record if the Bears are unable to counter their aggressive attempts on goal.

But McGuire and the squad have confidence in their ability to take on such a highly competitive and challenging match-up.

"We have a much stronger team this year, so it'll be a lot better game (than last year)," Hassett said. "We're really well prepared."


Contact Alex Matthews at [email protected]

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