Bay Area Foes Up Next for Bears

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When three teams of national caliber reside within miles of each other, don't expect them to play nice neighbors.

Expect an all-out war.

The battle for the bragging rights begins this weekend when the No. 11 Cal women's soccer team enters the Bay Area Final Four along with No. 5 Stanford and No. 19 Santa Clara. San Jose State rounds out the ticket.

The Bears (7-0) will take on only the Spartans (4-4) Friday and the Broncos (4-3) Sunday. The Stanford showdown will have to wait until the Pac-10 season.

Regardless, passions will be running high.

"There's such a rivalry in the Bay Area because there are three of us in the top twenty," Cal coach Kevin Boyd said. "In the last few years, we've been battling to see who is best."

The Bears must be careful not overlook San Jose State in anticipation of their confrontation with Santa Clara, a national power.

The Spartans have shown they can beat tough teams, especially within the confines of Spartan Stadium.

"San Jose State is a pain," Boyd said. "They're difficult to play. They're good at home. They have a narrow stadium with not much room between the lines and the stands."

Gaining experience in Spartan Stadium would be a wise move for Cal, considering that SJSU is the location for this year's NCAA play.

If the Bears do make it that far in the postseason, Sunday's matchup against the Broncos could be a preview of a potential Bay Area showdown in soccer's November version of March Madness.

The final four has been familiar territory for Santa Clara in recent years, but the Broncos have gotten off to a rocky start this year due in large part to a bad case of the injury bug.

"In all three losses, they've had quite a few injuries," Boyd said. "The question is how many of those players they get back (Sunday)."

Unfortunately for Cal, injuries have also become a problem.

Sweeper Tami Pivnick injured her MCL in last Friday's 2-1 win over Wake Forest and will not play this weekend. Prior to her injury, she was named to Soccer America's Team of the Week for her solid defensive play.

In addition, midfielder Lee Ann Morton suffered a broken nose against Missouri, Sunday and will miss Friday's match.

Pivnick has been a huge part of the stifling defense that has helped the Bears get off to their best start since 1987.

"We have lost (Pivnick) for a couple weeks," Boyd said. "She is responding better than we thought though."

Pivnick's injury has forced Cal reshuffle both its backfield and midfield to compensate for her loss.

Kim Stocklmeir will take over the sweeper position for the time being. Stocklmeir turned in a strong performance in Pivnick's absence against the Tigers.

This weekend will test of whether or not the Bears reorganized lineup will affect Cal's defensive prowess. The Bears will have one of their biggest defensive challenges of the year to date in Santa Clara.

The Broncos' potent offense stems in part from the unique 4-3-3 system they employ. They use no wide midfielders, and instead depend on three midfielders in the middle to drive the scoring.

Cal hopes to counteract Santa Clara's center-heavy offense by bottling up the middle and shutting down the Broncos' attack.

"This will be the first time we'll be matched pretty evenly," Boyd said. "They've got the past few years on their side and we've got the desire to change that."


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