It was a tough pill to swallow down in Arizona. Facing Arizona State to open the 2022 Pac-12 Tournament, the sixth-seeded Bears hoped to pull off an upset against an extremely talented team. It wasn’t an easy matchup by any definition, but it was at least a matchup that the Bears knew they could be competitive in. Unfortunately for Cal lacrosse, that was far from the case.
The Sun Devils wasted no time taking control of the game. They went on a 5-1 run to open the game, with goals and assists coming from throughout the team. Mina Scott netted two of those five goals, while Carley Adams found two assists of her own in the electrifying opening from Arizona State. It was clear early on in the game that the Sun Devils were on an entirely different tier than the Bears. They looked faster, stronger and more aggressive in every aspect of the game.
Still, the Bears tried to fight back against the Sun Devil tide. In the second quarter, Nikki Zaccaro found Quinnlyn Mason to start a 3-1 run that got the Bears back within a manageable 8-5 deficit. But it was as if the Sun Devils were playing with their food, as they immediately put the clamps on the Bears’ offense. Arizona State finished the quarter with three unanswered goals, taking an 11-5 lead thanks in part to their ability to win multiple draw controls, setting up excellent runs for their attackers.
The second half only got worse from there as the Bears were beaten to what felt like every 50-50 ball; the Sun Devils were quicker to the ball, quicker on the draw and quicker to the goal, allowing them to take an indomitable 14-5 lead soon into the third quarter. Not only were the Sun Devils beating the Bear in the hustle plays, but they were playing extremely physical.
Arizona State likes to pressure its opponents all the way up the field, very similar to a full-court press in basketball, which is somewhat of a rarity in the Pac-12. The team has its attackers, who are usually reserved for offensive purposes, harass the players bringing the ball up the field in the hopes of getting a breakaway steal with counterattack opportunities.
This posed a problem in the first two meetings between these teams and was definitely bothering the Cal midfielders trying to run the ball up the field. It certainly felt like the pressure was disrupting the offense’s tempo and rhythm as the Bears’ offense was dry all game long.
Liz Scott scored a goal toward the end of the third quarter, but it wasn’t nearly enough to stop the Sun Devils’ onslaught as they quickly collected three goals to make up for their mistake. The end result of the game was never in doubt from the moment Arizona State scored its first goal. Zaccaro netted the final goal of the game — and the final goal of her career — as the Bears fell 17-8 in the end.
It was a disappointing end to the season for the Bears, losing as underdogs to an extremely talented Sun Devils team. But despite the difficult loss, the Bears have a lot to be proud of this season.
At one point, it felt like this team would remain winless; there was a point in the season where the program hadn’t won in an entire calendar year. But they never lost faith. They earned two well-deserved wins against quality opponents. Additionally, they fought hard in a tough conference featuring USC, Stanford and Arizona State, all teams that were within the top 25 in the national rankings at some point in the season.
On the other side of the match, Arizona State went on to upset No. 2 USC in the semifinals thanks to the back-to-back goals in the closing minutes of the game from Taylor Pinzone and Scott. The Sun Devils went on to face No. 1 seed Stanford in the championship game but fell short of the trophy, falling 12-18.
It was an incredible season for Arizona State, from the breakout of a star in freshman goalie Katie Vahle to its first top-15 win in the young program’s history. This team, led by Vahle, will give the Bears trouble for the next couple of years.
The NCAA announced the field for the 2022 Division I women’s lacrosse tournament May 8. Twenty-nine teams qualify for the tournament this year. Winning the Pac-12 Championship, Stanford automatically qualified for the tournament and will face Jacksonville University in the first round. While Stanford and Jacksonville did not meet this season the Dolphins lost a thriller to USC earlier in the year.
Speaking of USC, the Pac-12 got a second team into the tournament as well, with the Trojans earning a national bid due to their 13-4 overall record. Despite losing to Arizona State in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament, their overall strength of schedule and impressive record was enough for the committee to send them to the big dance.
Should they win against Virginia in the first round, they will draw the top seeded team in the tournament and the number one ranked team in the country for most of the season in North Carolina.
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, their run to the Pac-12 Championship was not enough to impress the committee as they were left off of the ballot. Their overall record doomed them as they finished 11-8. They were an impressive 7-3 within the conference but went a measly 4-5 in out-of-conference play. Their season ends on a bittersweet note, with lots to look forward to moving onto next season.