Santa Clara beats Bears 2-0 in second-round matchup
Facing a team with more playoff experience and six national team players, the Cal women’s soccer team couldn’t shake off their postseason jitters, losing to the Santa Clara Broncos in a second-round NCAA Tournament game at Edwards Stadium on Saturday.
Despite being the No. 8 seed in the tournament, the Bears seemed more like the underdogs heading into the game. The Broncos have been in the Final Four the past two seasons and have several players with international experience. Sweeper Danielle Slaton was the only collegiate player on the U.S. Olympic team this summer, and her savvy showed as she shut down the Bear offense time and time again.
The Bears ended the season with a 17-3-1 record, breaking the school record for victories and finishing second in the Pac-10. The Broncos are now 15-6-1 and will face BYU this Saturday.
The loss was the first at Edwards Stadium this year for the Bears, and the first time the team has been shut out this season.
Santa Clara outshot the Bears 12-7, but the team were playing evenly throughout the first half. Cal midfielder Brittany Kirk had the best scoring chance for either team early in the game, as she headed a Laura Schott cross just wide of the net.
The Broncos would score on their first good opportunity, as leading scorer Kristi Candau put away a far-post cross from midfielder Kerry Cathcart in the 43rd minute.
“I came across, and (Cathcart) did well to hit the ball to the far post,” said Cal goalkeeper Maite Zabala, who had five saves in the game. “There’s always more you could have done, but they scored two nice goals.”
Coming just before halftime, the goal seemed to deflate the Bears as the teams headed into the locker rooms.
Five of Cal’s starters in the game were either freshmen or sophomores, and the young players looked overly anxious. Several nice runs by freshman midfielder Kim Yokers ended in touches that were just a bit too long, and numerous Cal passes were just inches out of reach.
Cal head coach Kevin Boyd said many of his players looked tentative against the Broncos.
“We carried our confidence all season long, then we got here and didn’t carry the same confidence,” Boyd said. “A lot of our players that have been dazzling people with their ball skills all year didn’t do that today. That’s a confidence that only comes with experience.”
The one Cal player who looked relaxed and focused was sweeper Tami Pivnik. The senior was cool under pressure and made several last-ditch tackles on Santa Clara attacks.
“Tami was one of our few players who played with confidence today, and she did some great things from the back” Boyd said. “Her ability to knock the ball around and possess it were spectacular today.”
Pivnik allowed that despite her confidence going into the game, there are always doubts.
“Even though I came out with the utmost confidence, it’s still in the back of my head that we haven’t won a playoff game since 1988,” she said. “I think that’s something this program has to break. I wish we could have done that today, but unfortunately it’ll have to wait until next season.”
The Bears had a good scoring opportunity early in the second half when Schott was fouled at the top of the Santa Clara box. Schott’s free kick was stopped by a diving Crystal Gordon just inside the right post, one of just two saves the Broncos’ keeper was forced to make in the game.
With Cal pressing forward with increasing urgency, the Broncos were able to counterattack for their second goal, as Candau was able to get off a cross from the right corner in the 73rd minute. Forward Megan Horvath was open in the box and one-timed the ball into the back of the net, effectively ending the Cal hopes for a comeback. The Broncos spent the rest of the match clearing the ball from their end to run out the clock.
An emotional Pivnik emphasized how proud she was of her years at Cal.
“I think this program has made tremendous strides in the shortest amount of time anyone could have imagined. It’s a tribute to Coach Boyd coming in and changing our program around,” she said. “It’s a tribute to my class coming in and all the classes that have followed. The attitude of this program has changed tremendously. We’re now a winning program, and we’re never going to be a losing program again.”
Boyd said that despite the loss of five key seniors, including Pivnik and Zabala, the team will be strong next year.
“We’re happy with our program and we like where we are. This was a great game that could have gone either way.”