Bears head mile high for conference finale

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The stakes have been raised a little higher for the Cal lacrosse team this weekend. They're a mile higher, to be exact. The Bears are playing their final conference match, a must-win game to receive a berth in the conference tournament, at Denver's Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Cal (9-6, 3-2 in the MPSF) will leave Thursday evening for the game in hopes of adjusting themselves to the thinner air before they take on the Pioneers (5-10, 3-1), but the altitude may not be the Bears' biggest concern.

"I'm from Denver, so I'm not afraid of that," senior Chapin Jackson said. "We're a fast team, so the altitude doesn't scare us."

The fact that a loss could mean an end to Cal's season does, however. Since only four teams will be accepted to the MPSF tournament this year, the Bears' 14-16 loss to Oregon last weekend was a blow to their tournament prospects. While the Ducks and No. 7 Stanford have solidified their spots, Cal is competing with Denver and UC Davis for the final two seeds.

"We're going into it kind of as if it's do or die," coach Theresa Sherry said. "Both teams will have that sense of urgency, and that adds to the competition and the rivalry that we always have with Denver."

The Bears will need to top not only the Pioneers' lung capacity but their intensity as well. This season Denver redshirt sophomore Kara Secora has racked up an astounding 67 points, more than twice as many as any of her teammates.

"We're working on cutters, and we're hoping to shut her down," sophomore Melissa Humphrey. "They have a phenomenal goalie as well, so we're hoping to get our shots on."

Pioneers keeper Ashley Harman has managed 25 ground balls and a 12.75 Goals Against Average, slightly below Cal goalie Allie Shropshire's 28 ground balls and 10.92 GAA. The Bears will need more than just Shropshire to contain Secora's shots; they will need to piece together a complete defensive effort to counter Denver's high pressure offensive tactics, which are augmented by the Pioneers' field.

"Their field is pretty small so they'll do a midfield ride like a press, that if you're not used to the small field, it can make it tough," Sherry said. "We have to make sure we're poised under the pressure they put on us from the beginning."

Sherry also said that Cal will need to prepare for Denver's zone defense in addition to its individual offensive skill and aggressive attack plan. In other words, it appears that the Bears need to piece together a perfect game to keep their season going.

"Every conference game is a championship game for us," Jackson said. "We try to look at each one with just as much importance as the others."

Still, given the extensive preparations Cal has taken to play the Pioneers, it's clear this game isn't just any other conference match. The life of the Bears' season hinges on it.


Alex Matthews covers lacrosse. Contact her at [email protected]

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