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Preview: Field hockey to play California, Berkeley in NCAA tournament

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 3 p.m., Miami University field hockey will play in an NCAA tournament game for the seventh straight season. The RedHawks will square off against the University of California, Berkeley (Cal) in Evanston, Illinois. 

The RedHawks earned the bid after winning their sixth straight Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament title on Saturday. Counting regular season and tournament championship titles separately, Miami has won 13 consecutive MAC championships.

“We ask everybody in the program to be professional,” Miami head coach Iñako Puzo said. “That means committing to discipline, being accountable, taking competition seriously, having a high level of concentration and intensity and respecting the philosophy of the game that we have in this program. That, I think, is the key.”

The RedHawks have already played Cal this year. Miami traveled to the Golden State to open its season, and in the first game of 2023, the RedHawks beat Cal 2-0.

“It’s very full circle,” fifth-year goaltender Isabelle Perese said. “That being our first game and now we have a chance to play them again in the playoffs … They’re a super fast-paced team, as are we. They have a lot of grad-transfers from all around the country, and it seems like they’ve been able to mesh well as the season has gone on.”

Those grad-transfers include dangerous forward Daniella Rhodes from Liberty University, who scored 19 goals in 18 games this season, and forward Bente Baekers, who led Northwestern University’s National Championship-winning team in points and goals in 2021. Baekers scored 17 goals for the Golden Bears in 19 games played this season. 

The RedHawks will have their work cut out stopping Cal’s explosive offense on Wednesday. The Golden Bears are currently second in the country with 3.26 goals per game in 2023. Puzo said it’s not the same Cal team Miami played back in August. Perese, who has recorded 29 shutouts in her 100 career games, will hope to hold Cal off the scoreboard for the second time this season. 

Cal finished its conference season 5-3. The team has won its last eight games, including the most recent three to win the America East Conference championship tournament and secure a bid to the NCAA’s. Cal beat two top-20 teams in the last two games of the tournament, No. 18 University of Massachusetts, Lowell 3-2 in double-overtime in the semifinal, then No. 19 University at Albany, 3-2 in overtime in the final. 

“They’re coming in with great momentum,” Puzo said. “They’re a tough team full of talent, but we have a lot of talent and a lot of momentum too. Our team clicked around week four or five of this season, and as a coach, that's what you’re looking for.” 

Miami has won five straight games, but none against top-20 opponents. 

“It’s a really good matchup,” Perese said. “No matter how it turns out on the scoreboard, it’s going to be a really exciting game to watch.”

The winner of Wednesday’s game takes on Northwestern on the Wildcats’ home water turf on Friday, Nov. 10, at 1 p.m.

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Last year, the RedHawks lost a heartbreaker to Northwestern in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. Miami went down 1-0 early in the second half of that game but tied it up in the fourth quarter. After regulation ended scoreless and so did an overtime period, the game went to a penalty shootout. 

Miami went down 2-0 in the five round penalty shootout. Perese stopped the next two Northwestern attempts and Miami converted twice-in-a-row to even the score at two. Northwestern converted again to start the fifth round. On the final try of Miami’s season, star then-junior midfielder Claudia Negrete Garcia appeared to score the tying goal, but it was called back because the referees ruled it hit the domed side of her stick. 

Should Miami beat Cal on Wednesday, the RedHawks have a chance to avenge that heartbreaking defeat. The Wildcats lost their first game of this season to the University of Louisville 1-0, but since then, they’ve won 18 straight. Eleven of those wins were against top-20 teams. 

“I think it’s easy to look in from the outside and say, ‘Well, this is just an expectation for them to be here,’” Perese said. “... We know that not every team gets to have this opportunity and to experience what this tournament is like. It’s really indescribable.”