Cal Women's Soccer earns a 1-1 draw against defending NCAA Champ Santa Clara

Makena Smith, Cal Softball star, was the hero for the Golden Bears

Cal Women’s Soccer has started its fall 2021 season with an undefeated weekend. That by itself is typically not all that surprising, but this season is slightly different.

Cal 3, UCSD 0

Cal opened the season on last Thursday at UC San Diego, whose promotion to Division 1 was delayed by the pandemic. Unlike Cal, who got to play this past spring, the UCSD Tritons have not played since the fall of 2019, when the team was still in Divsion 2.

Cal cruised to a 3-0 victory with many of the talented freshmen showcasing their tremendous skills. The Golden Bears dominated the ball possession (didn’t have the official figure but likely greater than 70%) and probably should have scored 2-3 more goals due to earning a couple of one-on-one breakaways.

Senior midfielder Paige Metayer scored the first goal of the season. Metayer earned her goal thanks to a good first touch on the long pass from sophomore teammate Abby Borchers.

While Cal dominated the first half, the half time score was merely 1-0.

Arguably the most heralded freshman in the No.1 ranked class in the country, Ayo Oke’s good run set up a second Cal goal, a tap-in for junior Mia Fontana.

In the closing seconds, with Cal playing 22+ players in this match to be much fresher than their UCSD counterparts. Jordyn Young became the first player of this freshman class to register a goal.

This was a very promising opener for the Cal Bears. 7 Golden Bears made their debut with defender Ayo Oke and striker Ari Manrique in the starting XI.

Cal goalkeeper Angelina Anderson was not really challenged in earning an easy clean sheet. The 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year AND Goalkeeper of the Year moved up to 5th all-time in Cal’s save list historically after the equivalent of 1.5 season worth of matches.

Cal 1, No.1/2 Santa Clara 1

Just over 3 months ago, Santa Clara defeated Florida State via penalties to win the “2020 NCAA Championship” for Women’s Soccer. Cal and Santa Clara play each other every year in the Battle of Brandi Chastain’s two alma maters.1 What was even more monumental this time may be how this match at Edwards Stadium was the first Cal Sporting event since the shutdown in 2020 that allowed fans. A pretty sizable crowd showed up on Sunday afternoon to check out these two Bay Area rivals.

The Pac-12 Network also had coverage, which means that you can check out the highlights below.

After Santa Clara took an early lead with an 11th-minute goal from Kelsey Turnbow, the 18th overall pick of the 2021 NWSL Draft by the Chicago Red Stars, Cal got an equalizer from Abby Borchers in the 36th minute by taking advantage of a Bronco miscue.

Despite 38 players listed on the Cal Women’s Soccer roster prior to this past weekend, Cal started a player at goal who was NOT on the list. Star goalkeeper Angelina Anderson apparently was a late scratch due to a still-not-publicly-announced injury, the Golden Bears had a surprising starting goalkeeper in this major match -- Makena Smith.

After joining the team earlier this week, Makena Smith started in goal for the Bears. She collected seven saves and looked composed. Smith, is a catcher on Cal's softball team, but she played soccer throughout high school and competed in a club national championship. However, she hasn't played in a couple years and she stepped into the spotlight and notched seven saves. Her biggest save came in the last minute of overtime as there was a looping ball sent in from Turnbow that looked destined to find the net. However, Smith got a glove on it and was able to tip it over the bar. She helped the Bears stave off a furious Broncos attack in the last moments of the second overtime to preserve the draw.

"In order to do what Makena did, you have to be a very special athlete," McGuire said. "Clearly, she competes at the Pac-12 level in softball. She's a great athlete in that sport and it clearly translated in this game today. We've known for a long time that she's a talented dual athlete, she played for a club team that we know well and respect. We had no fear of putting her in the goal, but to see her perform the way she did was really special and I'm excited for her."

Readers may or may not recognize Makena Smith as the current Cal Softball star. As the starting catcher, Smith is the offensive team leader in homers (8 in the 2021 season) and average (0.481 back in the shortened 24-game 2020 season, more normal 0.327 in 2021). While it is not that shocking that someone with her athletic ability could play soccer goalie at the Pac-12 level, it was perhaps more surprising that she even had the spare time to maintain her club-level soccer skills while being a student-athlete at Cal.

What was even more remarkable, Cal obviously had no idea that they would even need a backup goalkeeper on Thursday/Friday. Makena Smith only had one day of practice with the team before facing the defending NCAA champions. While Cal’s veteran backline led by 5th-year senior Emily Smith, the 31st overall pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft, is an experienced bunch, swapping out the keeper on short notice was a big tactical change for everyone involved.

Smith had to make some key plays, including a big save in the closing minutes of the second OT to preserve the 1-1 draw. She was named the Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week for her heroic. It was also fun to see her Cal Softball teammates going crazy as fans right behind the goals.

SF Gate interviewed Makena Smith earlier this week about her whirlwind collegiate women’s soccer debut.

As long as Smith has been at Cal (she's a senior now), she's been attending soccer matches in her spare time. "I just love to be around the game in general, and I didn’t care if I wasn’t playing," she told SFGATE on Tuesday. Except on Sunday, something very strange happened: She was asked to play soccer again. For the Cal women's team. As the starting goalie. With five minutes' notice. Against the defending national champions.

Long story short (because the real story is her performance), Smith spent her college days hanging out with the women's soccer team, and they knew she used to be a club-level player. “We sat in the same dorm commons and I told them I used to play," she says. A recent slew of injuries to Cal's goalies put the team in a tough spot, so to cover their bases, they poked around for someone who could be their emergency backup — someone who could maybe help them avoid a totally embarrassing, lopsided score were she to enter the game for unforeseen reasons. Smith's soccer team friends threw her name out. One of the soccer coaches called her softball coach. The softball coach called Smith out of the blue last week, which scared the bejesus out of Smith. 

"I thought I did something wrong when she called," Smith says. "I was like, ‘Oh shoot, what did I do?’ And she said, ‘I have a weird question for you: I just got off the phone with one of the soccer coaches, and they asked if you would want to play with them for however long they need you.'"

After the Cal Softball coaches gave her the okay to join the Women’s Soccer squad, Makena Smith was added to the squad ahead of the Santa Clara match as the backup goalie. Yet a mere 5 minutes before the Sunday match, she got a big surprise from Cal Women’s Soccer Head Coach Neil McGuire.

The news was that shortly before Sunday's Cal-Santa Clara game — like, five minutes before warm-ups commenced — Smith was pulled aside by Cal's coach Neil McGuire. The team's talented, decorated starting goaltender, Angelina Anderson, was a late scratch due to injury. Which meant Smith was the new starter.

"I thought [McGuire] was joking when he said I was starting," Smith says. "I kind of chuckled, and then he said he was serious. I was like, ‘Okay, yeah, let’s do it.'"

With Makena Smith now the 39th player listed on the Cal Women’s Soccer Roster page (there is surely no way that all those players can be active in the same match), Cal (1-0-1) will next travel up to Portland (Alma Mater of USWNT’s Megan Rapinoe) for a match on Friday at 4 pm PT. It will be interesting to see just who will be starting at goal for the Golden Bears, although the SF Gate article said that Anderson will likely be back. Even if Makena Smith will just be the backup for the rest of the season, what an incredible debut for her on the collegiate soccer pitch!

GO BEARS!

1

Cal definitely still honor Chastain in their sideline banners celebrating Cal alumni on the USWNT who have won World Cups.