Quick start leads Oregon lacrosse to 12-7 win over Cal in Pac-12 opener

Fourteen seasons into its program history, Oregon women’s lacrosse finally played a Pac-12 match.

On Saturday night at Pape Field, the Ducks didn’t waste any time making their mark in the conference of champions.

Four goals within the first four minutes of Saturday night’s match gave the Ducks a commanding lead over Cal that they would not surrender, coming away with a 12-7 win over the Golden Bears to kick off a new era.

“It was a hard fought game,” head coach Katrina Dowd said. “They came at us. We had to keep switching things up. I think when our [defense] settled in, they were the difference makers for us today.”

The two schools — alongside USC, Stanford and Colorado — had previously competed as part of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. However, with Arizona State launching its program this season, the minimum requirement of six schools within the conference was met. With that, the inaugural season of Pac-12 play was ready to roll.

“You could feel how exciting it is for the whole conference,” Dowd said. “For women’s lacrosse, it’s huge for the sport to have the Pac-12 involved and to be a sponsored sport.”

Shannon Williams put together a pretty solid career competing in the MPSF. It didn’t take long for the junior to start crafting her resume in the Pac-12, scoring an unassisted goal just over one minute into the game.

Williams scored three more goals on the night to increase her season total to team-leading 14 on the season. However, it wasn’t before her teammates continued the Ducks scorching start to the match.

A trio of goals by Natalie Modly, Jill Zubilaga and Mariah Gatti within 93 seconds gave Oregon a 4-0 lead with over 26 minutes left in the first half.

The Ducks and Golden Bears were evenly matched the rest of the match. As it turned out, the quick start for Oregon ended up being the difference maker.

“We came out really ready to play,” Cambi Cukar said. “We were amped and excited.”

Cal didn’t throw in the towel after getting down early, though. The Golden Bears cut the lead in half after Meredith Haggerty scored her first goal of the season to make it a 6-4 lead for Oregon.

However, the Ducks kept their discipline following Cal’s rebuttal. Following Haggerty’s score, Zubillaga and Gatti scored consecutively to bump the lead back up to four.

Cal scored twice more to cut the lead to 8-6 and threaten the Ducks lead once again.

The Golden Bears didn’t have the energy to climb over the hump and steal one from the Ducks. Oregon scored four of the final five goals to come away with the five goal victory.

It was a well balanced effort from the Ducks. Williams and Gatti each finished with four goals, and Modly and Zubillaga each added two of their own.

The highlight of the second half came with 11:17 remaining, when Gatti scored her fourth goal of the night on a perfect over-the-net assist from Cambi Cukar to put Oregon up 11-6.

Cukar and Gatti had it working throughout the sixty minutes; all four of Gatti’s goals were assisted on by Cukar, who holds the program record for assists.

“I’m lucky as a feeder that she’s taller than every defender she’s on,” Cukar said about Gatti. “If I just pop it high, she knows how to bring it up and down; essentially a slam dunk.”

The Ducks will welcome No. 18 Stanford to Eugene on Sunday.

“We’re going to have to play the whole 60 minutes. We can’t just focus on the first five,” said Dowd.

Follow Cole Kundich on Twitter @ckundich

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Cole Kundich

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