With all these plane trips and all these wins, the Cal field hockey team will soon be known as the only functional Air Bears on campus. The squad will take a tour of the Eastern Seaboard this weekend for the second time in three weeks, with its sights set on Brown University and national powerhouse the University of Connecticut.
In their week off from travels, the Bears defeated Stanford in a thrilling overtime win. After the victory, Cal’s high spirits were lifted even more, as two players were awarded America East honors for their performances. Redshirt sophomore goalie Kori Griswold, who recorded seven saves, was awarded the AE Defensive Player of the Week award, while last weekend’s golden-goal-scoring hero, Sydney Earle, won the AE Player of the Week award. The two will try to carry their strong performances across the country into battle with two teams that present vastly different challenges.
The first game of the weekend will be against Brown on Friday — a team of deceptive difficulty. Brown stands at an uneasy 3-3 record with two overtime victories and has scored a collective 10 goals on the season. Senior forward Hannah Rogers and pace the club with seven points apiece, and the Brown Bears have scored three goals only once this year. In comparison, Cal has eclipsed seven goals on two separate occasions. What this team represents, however, is a test that Cal has yet to overcome: the handling of less threatening opponents. Cal has a nasty tendency to play its best games against ranked teams and its worst games against the teams outside the top 20. Earlier this month, the team followed a victory over then-No. 14 Penn State with a loss to unranked Bucknell.
“In the past, we’ve had difficulty just staying on track and, after a big win, coming out and being able to repeat that,” Griswold said. “Our biggest challenge will be going out there and playing our game and staying mentally engaged.”
The No. 1 Huskies present a different test entirely. Streaking into the contest at a perfect 7-0, UConn brings an undeniable title pedigree to the matchup Sunday, as the program has brought home the last two NCAA National Championships. The team’s wealth of veteran leadership is complemented by its youthful talent — namely 2014 Big East Rookie of the Year, sophomore forward Charlotte Veitner. An aggressive scorer and a crafty passer, Veitner has already amassed 34 points in this young season. If Cal has any hope of impeding this UConn offense that has thus far scored 41 goals, slowing its primary playmaker should be its top priority.
The Bears will likely do everything in their power to neutralize Veitner, thereby daring the rest of her team to beat them. The problem, however, is that the rest of the team will find a way to be effective, even with its leader double-teamed. UConn freshman Amanda Collins and sophomore Casey Umstead have tallied 15 and 12 points on the season, respectively. For perspective, the Bears’ top-two overall point earners this year — junior Sydney Earle and freshman Melina Moore — have totaled 11 and 10. If Cal wants to compete in this game, it will need to keep the score as low as possible. The Bears have thrived in low-scoring games this season, and a shootout would quickly turn in favor of the Huskies.
The coming eastern trek will be extremely telling for Cal. The two teams it will encounter present exceptionally unique tasks, from the trap game at Brown to the star-studded Huskies. The outcomes will reveal more realistic expectations for the team moving forward — either a playoff team on the rise or an inexperienced group not yet able to take the next step. With the Pac-12 race shaping up, attention to detail and game-plan execution will be absolutely critical.