STANFORD – California field hockey head coach Shellie Onstead had an odd feeling that her team should practice shootouts Friday morning before the Bears took on Michigan State, and the decision paid off as the Bears survived a 2-1 victory over the Spartans to open the 2013 season at Stanford’s Varsity Turf.
The two teams were tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, and neither team was able to put a point on the board through the two overtime periods to force the shootout. After nine rounds late Friday night, the Bears came out on top to open the season 1-0 while the Spartans fall to 0-1.
“That game had every component,” Onstead said. “This morning I had a corner practice scheduled and realized we hadn’t spent any time on shootouts. So we did that this morning on the off chance we would go to a shootout today. We played two full halves, two 15-minute shorthanded overtime periods and then went to a shootout. You wonder if your team will be ready, and I got the message today. They’re ready. I’m very proud of them.”
Junior goalkeeper Courtney Hendrickson could have very easily been named a player of the match with her performance of four saves in regulation before holding Michigan State to only two scores through nine penalty shootout rounds. Hendrickson saved the first two Michigan State attempts to set the tone, and the teams went through their five takers tied at 2-2. The junior then further put the clamps on the Spartans by saving three of their next four and forcing time on the other to propel the Bears to the 3-2 shootout win.
“That has to be a pretty darn good record right there,” Onstead said of Hendrickson’s shootout performance Friday. “She stayed calm. We’ve worked on it and we’ve talked about it, but it’s about decision making and she made great decisions today.”
The match promised to be even throughout with neither team being able to hold a clear advantage on the pitch in the first half until the Spartans broke through in the final minutes of the half. MSU’s Abby Barker was able to dribble around a defender and fire a shot into the back of the goal to give the visitor’s the 1-0 lead at 32:11.
The Bears vigorously fought back in the second half and nearly equalized in the 43rd minute with a shot by Jordan O’Reilly, but the attempt was saved. With the clock winding down to under 10 minutes remaining, the Bears kept attacking and continued to put themselves in position with four penalty corners in the half. However, it wasn’t until just 5:07 remained in the game when senior Andrea Earle was able to even the score and force overtime with her goal at 64:55.
Earle, an All-American in 2011 while leading Cal to the NCAA Tournament, made a triumphant return after only playing in two late-season games last year due to injury.
“We so missed her last year,” Onstead said of Earle. “That just shows you what we were missing. It’s great for her to gain that confidence that way. This morning I thought it’s important to get this first game for a lot of reasons in terms of confidence, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Friday marked just the sixth time that a California season opener went to overtime, and the Bears have gone 4-2 in those games. The last Golden Bear season opener to go to overtime was a 4-3 win over American to start the 2006 season.
The Bears return to action Sunday when they take on No. 4 Connecticut in a game that will be televised live on the Pac-12 Networks. That game will be played at Varsity Turf at Stanford, Calif., and will begin at 12 p.m.