The Derby, The Big Boot — call it what you will. All you really need to know is that it’s No. 4 Stanford (16-1-2) vs. Cal (13-4-2) at Goldman Field at 2 p.m. in Berkeley on Thursday in the final game of the regular season.
California, despite being unranked, is effectively the 26th-ranked team in the nation, receiving 39 votes in the NSCAA Coaches Poll. For perspective, the next closest is Arizona State with 16 votes.
The Golden Bears have lost just four games all year long and have only lost by more than a single goal once, that coming at the hands of the top-ranked UCLA Bruins in a 3-0 defeat. Moreover, they haven’t lost since falling to the Bruins in Westwood on Oct 13, notching three victories in the five-game stretch and allowing just two goals in their last four matches.
Defense has been a strong point for Berkeley this year. Over the course of the season, they have conceded just .89 goals per game and averaged 2.16 goals while recording seven shutouts on the year. On the offensive end, even though 12 of their 41 goals have come unassisted, Cal’s success seems to be a complete team effort. There is no shortage of offensive balance for the Bears: 15 different players have scored for Cal this year and 15 players have recorded assists. Cal’s leading scorer, senior midfielder Taylor Comeau (eight goals), also happens to be tied for the team leader in assists, with six.
And she isn’t alone: four other Golden Bears have at least three goals and three assists. That means that this Cal team can bring pressure in a variety of ways. On any given day, any one of Cal’s weapons could emerge as a threat, making it a dangerous side to defend against. It is the kind of balanced attack that the Cardinal should see throughout the coming tournament, especially if they should meet UCLA again. The record-setting Cardinal back four will have to be prepared to stop the diverse Cal attack. They will be anchored by sophomore goalkeeper Jane Campbell, who will likely start after a day off against Oregon State.
The Derby also has, unsurprisingly, deep regional roots. Sophomore midfielder Megan Turner will face-off against four of her former San Ramon Valley High School teammates. Senior midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta, meanwhile, will play against one of her former Los Osos High School teammates in Cal junior forward Ifeoma Onumonu. And that just accounts former teammates — the collegiate rivalry continues with dozens of local high school rivalries in the Bay Area and extending from Seattle to San Diego.
As if the rivalry needed more fuel, there are a number of reasons that this matchup should be as hotly contested as ever. California is fighting for home-field advantage in the first round of the tournament and a good result on Thursday would essentially cement it. Conversely, if they are at the losing end of a blowout, they may see themselves slide out of the top half of the 64 teams altogether and lose their chance at playing one more game at home.
Similarly, Stanford is fighting to keep its ranking and for home-field advantage. What’s more, there is a huge disparity between being in the top four and dropping down lower. With a victory at Berkeley, Stanford all but solidifies a regional No. 1 seeding — an important position in the gauntlet of the NCAA tournament.
With the long campaign drawing to a close, the Cardinal are seeing their continual hard work come to fruition. After an outstanding and serendipitous Senior Night in their home finale against Oregon State, what better way to end the season than securing a top seed in the NCAA tournament against the stout and well-rounded Golden Bears?
The Bears will face the prospect of shutting down the fourth-highest active goal scorer in all of Division I in Taylor Uhl, and three more of Stanford’s star seniors on top of their form: LaBonta, Chioma Ubagagu and the ever-consistent Haley Rosen. Coach Paul Ratcliffe will likely treat the match with all the attention of a tournament game as his team prepares to begin its journey to capture the school’s second NCAA title.
Contact Nicholas Radoff at nradoff ‘at’ stanford.edu.