Sluggish start dooms Bears against Card

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Going into its match-up with No. 9 Stanford on Friday, the Cal lacrosse team probably felt like it was on top of the world - or at least on top of the conference.

Fresh off a three-game winning streak, the most recent of which was an 11-2 rout of Villanova on March 27, the Bears were undefeated in league play. Junior midfielder Tara Arolla had just been named MPSF player of the week.

Coming out of halftime down 13-5 to the Cardinal, however, the Bears may have well been six feet under. They scored evenly in the second half but still lost, 19-11, at Cagan Stadium in Stanford.

"We kind of dug ourselves a hole that was, in the end, too big to come back from," Cal coach Theresa Sherry said. "We tied them 6-6 in the second half, but we allowed them eight goals in the first half. That's not going to work out in your favor."

The Bears (8-5, 2-1 in the MPSF) struggled with the most basic tactics, according to Sherry. The squad failed to win draw controls at the game's start, a mistake that enabled Stanford (10-1, 2-0) to keep possession.

According to Sherry, Stanford seniors Karen Nesbitt and Lauren Schmidt in particular exploited those weaknesses and tired out Cal's defense.

Nesbitt and Schmidt, along with seniors Sarah Flynn, tested the Bears' net. Flynn and Nesbitt both took five shots and scored three goals, while Schmidt scored five on eight shots.

While Stanford's seniors took the lead, Cal's younger players were a presence on offense. The only goals scored by an upperclassman were two by junior Vail Horn. Meanwhile, freshman Amelia Burke scored a career-high four goals against the Cardinal.

"Amelia has really come alive the last three or four games for us, actually winning draw controls for us and also just going hard to goal," Sherry said.

"She has the benefit of not having that monkey on her back from past years and past losses, so she plays unafraid."

Given that the last time the rivals faced off, Cal fell just 9-7 in the 2010 MPSF semifinal, one might have expected the Bears to come out with a little more confidence.

Instead, they came out unprepared.

"You can't come out flat against them," Sherry said. "We came out really slow, sort of on our heels for some reason, and you can't do that against a good team like that."

Coming out without intensity clearly cost the Bears against Stanford, which averages 15.46 goals per game. The Cardinal have yet to lose to an unranked opponent this season.

Even so, the Bears' previously perfect conference record means they that still may get the chance to play Stanford again in the tournament.

"We are playing every game like it's a championship game because we don't want to leave anything to chance at the end of April," Sherry said.

Friday's performance shows there is serious room for improvement if Cal wants another shot at the Card.


Alex Matthews covers lacrosse.

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