Cal Flies to Gainesville for First Round of NCAA Tourney

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After an overtime win against Pac-10 runner-up Oregon State Sunday, the Cal women's soccer team had an even more suspenseful Monday, waiting to hear if they would receive a bid to the NCAA tournament.

Within 24 hours of the announcement that Cal had received a bid, the Bears were traveling the farthest they had all season: Gainesville, Fla. There, they will face Duke in the first round today at 5:30 p.m.

The Blue Devils (10-7-1) tied with Virginia Tech for sixth with a 4-5-1 in the challenging Atlantic Coast Conference. Every team that finished above them, including No. 3 North Carolina and No. 4 Maryland, is nationally ranked.

"They play in a tremendous conference, so they'll have very few weaknesses," Cal coach Neil McGuire said.

Duke has demonstrated its ability to compete with and, on occasion, beat those ranked opponents. The Blue Devils shut out No. 18 Boston College, 3-0, and posted 1-1 draws against both No. 4 Maryland and No. 5 Florida. The ties show Duke's ability to fight out a game beyond the regulation 90 minutes into overtime.

"I don't know that we're going to be overly concerned that we're playing a team from another good conference," McGuire said. "Other than the fact that we have to respect all of the things that they're capable of."

One Blue Devil strength Cal will need to respect is Duke's endurance through overtime. The Bears have proved to be slightly more of a second-half team this season; of their 40 goals, 25 have been scored in the second half or overtime. The Bears fire nearly 50-percent more shots in the second half than they do in the first.

"We have talked about that, and we certainly have made the players aware that we have to be more sharp in our possession and in our ability to attack in the first half ," McGuire said.

Until this weekend, it seemed like Cal was struggling in the absence of co-captain Alex Morgan, who is currently playing with the national team. The Bears lost to Arizona for the first time ever and only put one ball in the back of the net in three conference games.

This past weekend, however, Cal (9-5-5) stepped up its game, shutting out both Oregon and No. 15 Oregon State to finish 4-4-1 in the Pac-10, good for fifth place.

The Bears bring four of their five All-Pac-10 players to the tournament. Megan Jesolva, a senior named to second team, has yet to score in her four years of Cal soccer. Instead, the versatile midfielder leads the team in assists with six.

Duke's offense also has some statistically threatening players, led by a pair of freshman forwards. Mollie Patham has eight goals and five assists, and Laura Weinberg, with nine goals and two assists.


Alex Matthews covers women's soccer. Contact her at [email protected]

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