With their season at risk of being cut short, the Bears aimed for a win or two on the East Coast in hopes of claiming the sixth playoff spot in the division. The weekend frenzy was the last way Cal foresaw its America East Championship chances going to rack and ruin.
First stop: Lowell, Massachusetts. The Bears arrived at the Cushing Field Complex to face off against the River Hawks, looking to make a case for a final tournament spot against a team that had already clinched the third seed. In this high-pressure atmosphere, the Bears started off strong.
Even though the team conceded an early goal to UMass Lowell’s Jenna Berger, Cal’s Kiki de Bruijne took matters into her own hands and responded with an immediate counterattack. Hitting a one-timer on a pass from teammate Sara Stone, de Bruijne put the ball in the back of the net to tie up the score 1-1. This expeditious back-and-forth action seemed reassuring for the Bear’s chances, but that optimism would not last.
The River Hawks went on to score two more goals in the first quarter alone, making the score 3-1 after only 15 minutes of regulation play. UML took nine shots in just the first period, matching the amount of shot attempts taken by Cal throughout the entire game.
After 10 more shots taken by the River Hawks, the Bears surrendered another goal to add to their opponent’s lead. Cal failed to kickstart the comeback magic, only putting two more shots on goal for the remainder of the game. With a final score of 4-1, UML collected its sixth conference win and put the pressure on Cal to win its last match of the season for any chance at a playoff berth.
With the season on the line, the Bears headed from Massachusetts to Vermont to take on the Catamounts at Moulton Winder Field. With the stage set and tensions high, the teams took the field to compete in what would end up being a rollercoaster of a game.
The first two periods displayed immaculate defense on both ends, with blocks and saves by Cato Knipping, Sierra Espeland and their defenders. By the end of 30 minutes, not a single goal had been scored on either side of the field, matching each other’s offensive drives and counterattacks. Which team would give in first?
Cal’s Monica Arteaga started the scoring not even two minutes into the period, receiving a pass from teammate Luzi Persiehl. In response, Vermont gained possession and attempted two shots from a penalty corner play, both saved by Knipping in an effort to keep the Bears in front. However, another corner set up a penalty stroke for Haley Buffenbarger to tie the game up.
The trade-off continued as Rachel Buttinger scored, paralleled by Alina Gerke just before the end of the frame. Cal regained the lead on Sophie Everett’s go-ahead goal past Espeland, only to be matched by Maddie Moran’s last second goal to tie the game up once more and to force overtime play. Moran’s clutch goal stemmed from a penalty corner opportunity, chipping the shot over the diving Knipping — going all out in a tremendous attempt to prevent Vermont from scoring.
The Catamounts immediately took charge in overtime, not wasting any time to march into Bear Territory and put a shot on net. The excitement of another shot saved by Cal’s goalie only lasted momentarily as Sophia Lefranc grabbed the rebound and landed the final blow to give Vermont the improbable comeback victory.
As the Catamounts mobbed their teammate in excitement, the Bears were left in disbelief as this win slipped right through their fingertips. Even though this was a disappointing ending to a well-fought game and season, defeat provides opportunities for learning and growth, staging a stronger comeback.