Bears in must-win situation against No. 6 Stanford

Eugene W. Lau/File

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The only thing standing between the Cal lacrosse team and the MPSF championship game is No. 6 Stanford. Unfortunately for the Bears, the Cardinal have stood between the rest of the conference and the MPSF title for the past six years.

Cal, the last of the four competing teams to clinch a tournament seed, faces the daunting task of taking on Stanford in today's 1 p.m. semifinal. A loss would mean the end of the season for the Bears, but a win could propel them to within one game of an automatic NCAA bid.

"This is an opportunity for us," Cal coach Theresa Sherry said. "We're very focused on winning that game on Friday because we have to do that before we can win the championship, so we're going after the championship, but we're taking things one at a time."

Facing the Cardinal's explosive midfield and offense at Saint Mary's Stadium in Moraga, Calif., the Bears (9-7, 3-3 in the MPSF) are wise not to get ahead of themselves. Stanford's scoring is led by four seniors: Sarah Flynn, Leslie Foard, Lauren Schmidt and Karen Nesbitt. Foard has 55 points - 37 goals and 18 assists - while Flynn follows her with 44 goals and five assists.

"Their midfield is really potent so our midfielders are going to have to shut them down," said Allie Shropshire, Cal's senior goalkeeper.

The Bears struggled to do that the last time they played the Cardinal, a 19-11 loss on April 1. Losses to Stanford (14-2, 6-0) haven't been unusual for Cal in recent years; last year, the Bears' MPSF campaign ended in the tournament semifinals with a 9-7 loss to the Cardinal. Cal's last win over its rival was in 2008.

"I was on the team when we beat them in 2008, and it was such a great feeling," Shropshire said. "I want to have that feeling on Friday."

That feeling has been hard for any MPSF team to come by in recent years. Stanford has suffered just two conference losses - both to Denver - since Cal's 2008 victory.

In spite of the Cardinal's recent dominance, the Bears are approaching this game with a mindset of how much there is to gain, rather than seeing their opponent as an impossible obstacle.

Unlike the three other tournament contenders, Cal come in with an extra week's rest. Stanford, Denver and Oregon all had games last weekend, while the Bears spent the past two weeks preparing for the tournament.

"We've really just focused on getting our mental game up and physically pushing each other to our limits," Shropshire said. "We've had a lot of time to have our bodies recover, so we've just been pushing really hard in practice and conditioning and working on our stick work."


Alex Matthews covers lacrosse.

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