Cal head coach Brooke Eubanks usually announces the starting lineup for a game days in advance, and it often comes with remarkable consistency — nine Bears have started every game this season. On Sunday, however, before a home tilt with Fresno State, Eubanks made one significant change: Freshman Lily Rathbun received her first career start at goalkeeper.
“Excitement went through my head because I didn’t know I was going to start until Coach Eubanks announced the starting lineup,” Rathbun said. “Hearing my name just got me super pumped.”
Rathbun answered the call. Cal’s defense, led by the newcomer in the goalbox, allowed its fewest goals in a game this season, earning an 11-9 victory. The win came in the team’s annual game dedicated to the HEADstrong Foundation, which provides support to individuals and families affected by cancer. Sunday’s victory both ended a five-game losing streak by the blue and gold, which was punctuated by a 4-21 loss at Stanford just two days before, and secured a season sweep of the Bulldogs.
A major difference between last weekend’s two outings was the discrepancy in shots taken. On Friday, the Cardinal rode a 0.67 shot per minute rate to a 16-1 halftime lead, during which it outshot the Bears 20-5. Cal allowed only six shots in the second half, but the feat came after Stanford took out most of its starters. On Sunday, however, the Bears were aggressive from the get-go, taking seven shots in the first ten minutes of play. Led by senior attacker Marisa Kuberra, who had four goals, Cal dominated the shooting, getting off 37 shots to Fresno State’s 21. Sunday also marked the first time this season the Bears led at halftime. Cal is now 8-0 when leading at intermission from 2019 to 2021.
“Coming out hot and really disciplined and put-together was going to be key today,” Kuberra said. “We were definitely going to have to grind out a win and I thought that it’s really going to be the heart and the hustle, that’s gonna put us over the edge.”
Traces of the blue and gold’s assertion against the Bulldogs could be seen in the second half of their blowout loss to the Cardinal two days prior. Halfway through the period, off a pass from Kaia Evans, midfielder Maya Lawliss took advantage of a premature reach by Cardinal defender Julia Greene and finished inside the 8-meter arc. Later, sophomore Amanda Morse finished from the top after running past midfielder Sophia McMahon, and, with 1:21 left, Kuberra drove inside and used a spin move to create separation and score.
“We (had) a better understanding of what we did in that game that could be improved, and what we did in those games that we should stick with because it’s what (worked),” Rathbun said.
With last weekend in the rearview mirror, Cal’s focus shifts to the second half of the season, in which the squad will meet each first-half opponent again. On Friday evening, the Bears will look for revenge against UC Davis, who handled Cal 14-8 in the season opener. On Sunday, the blue and gold will travel south to San Diego State to take on the Aztecs. Cal fell to SDSU by one goal on Feb. 28.
“It’s really nice to have that experience of playing the team and then playing them again, and to be able to come out so much better because we know what worked and what didn’t the first time,” Rathbun said.
In addition to maintaining offensive aggression, the Bears must defend the interior effectively, which they did in the previous games. However, Cal will have to improve its isolation defense, as the Aggies and Aztecs both scored more than 70% of their goals unassisted the last time they visited Berkeley.
After Sunday’s win, Kuberra said the Bears “started off right by digging (themselves) out of a hole.” Now, it’s time to see if they can stay out of that hole.
Ali Fazal covers lacrosse. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.