Outright NorPac Title Up for Grabs When Cal Faces Card

Photo: Junior goalkeeper Maddie Hand has started in all 15 games for Cal this season; she has made 59 saves in those games. The Bears are currently undefeated in conference play.
Allyse Bacharach/File
Junior goalkeeper Maddie Hand has started in all 15 games for Cal this season; she has made 59 saves in those games. The Bears are currently undefeated in conference play.

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The Cal field hockey team's final home game of the season has all the makings of a Friday night classic. If the anticipation for the 7 p.m., contest against Stanford wasn't enough, the right to sole ownership of the NorPac West Division title is on the line.

"The atmosphere of the game is going to create more pressure," coach Shellie Onstead said. "It's going to be a lot of fun. They're going to be excited and they'll have to be able to do the simple things well, so that's what we've been focusing on."

With a 3-0 win over Pacific last week, the Bears (8-7, 5-0 in NorPac) are assured at least a share of the regular season conference championship. Cal will likely meet the Cardinal for the third time this year in the NorPac tournament, but a victory over the squad's cross-Bay rival ensures a top seed.

"Games against Stanford are always very intense," senior Lisa Lohre said. "I think if we bring the level we want to bring tomorrow, and just carry it over to NorPac, we'll have good preparation for that tournament."

Over the last eight seasons, the Bears have posted a 20-5 record against Stanford (10-5, 4-1). Although Cal has rarely suffered defeat at the hands of the Cardinal, some of those losses have been heartbreaking - three have come in each of the last three NorPac championship matches.

Despite the Bears' 29-9 shot advantage in the 2008 finals, Stanford's goal in double overtime denied Cal an NCAA play-in bid. Last season, the Bears had nine freshmen on their roster, entered the finals as underdogs, and were handed a postseason exit by the Cardinal once again.

But in its thrilling 2-1 upset over then-No. 16 Stanford this season, Cal showed no signs of being haunted by 2008's unexpected defeat or 2009's prematurely ended Cinderella run. The teams matched each other shot-for-shot until sophomore Claire Dougherty scored in the last four minutes to topple the Cardinal.

The Bears have history on their side. Dating back to 1998, Cal has won 11 straight home games against Stanford. A 12th straight victory means an undefeated NorPac record for the first time since 2006.

"I'm happy to play up the home field advantage. It's a viable thing here, and I think there will be a lot of people out here," Onstead said.

There's another reason for Cal to sweep the Cardinal: Friday's match is also Senior Night. Onstead has voiced pride for their leadership this season.

"They're very significant. They're handling this year very, very well," Onstead said. "It will be emotional, there's no way around that, and I think that's going to give them a little extra oomph on Friday."

That "extra oomph" might already be present, as the seniors are raring to take one final shot at Stanford in their last homestand.

"We're pumped and we definitely want to get a win tomorrow for our team," senior Megan Psyllos said. "We need to win this game, but I think we're just excited to finally play in it."


Catherine Nguyen covers field hockey. Contact her at [email protected]

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