California's field hockey team looks to improve upon last year's record-setting season in 2002. Posting a 14-5 overall record in 2001, the second most wins in a single season by a Golden Bear field hockey squad, expectations for itself is only bigger.
Dominating the NorPac conference for the second year in a row with a 5-1 record (1st), the Bears used the momentum to get to the next round of their season. They went on to win the NorPac postseason tournament in North Carolina, earning them an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament playoffs, their first appearance since 1994. After a 5-1 win over Quinnipiac, Cal finished short in a 2-1 overtime loss to Syracuse in the first round of NCAAs.
Cal head coach Shellie Onstead expects the team to use what they learned from last year's NCAA experience to reach higher levels this year.
"I've been excited about this season since the end of last season," Onstead, 2001 NorPac Coach of the Year. "The difference for me is we had this attitude where our goal was to get to the (NCAA) Tournament and anything after that was gravy. Now, we expect to get to the tournament. We expect to be one of the top teams."
Advancing to the tournament is a realistic goal, as Cal returns eight starters and inherits 11 talented freshmen. Onstead's squad finished 2001 ranked No. 17 (NCAA) and looks to maintain its Top 20 reputation this year. Overcoming late injuries from 2001 and quickly getting the freshmen used to Division I play, there should be nothing in the way to stop the Bears in 2002.
Despite loosing leading goal scorer and second team regional All-American Elizabeth Harkins to graduation, Cal adds her as a third assistant coach who will be able to pass on the knowledge she learned while playing for the Bears.
Among the top-returning players is junior co-captain Nora Feddersen, who led the team in goals (11) and shots (67) and was second on the team in points (26). Feddersen decorated herself with some impressive honors at the end of the season, including being selected as a first team regional All-American, first team All-NorPac and NorPac conference MVP.
"Nora is one of our natural leaders as she plays the right mid position, the playmaker," said Onstead.
Helping out Feddersen at the midfield position will be Michelle Wald and Stephanie Lyons, both of whom are coming off injuries.
"They are still a concern, but I am confident with the rest of the kids," said Onstead. "We've really had a good couple years of development. I'm excited about the players that are going to step up, including last year's sophomores and juniors."
Junior co-captain Erin Booth returns to direct the defense for the Bears, playing in all 19 games last season with three goals. Senior Lisa D'Anjou leads the forward line, concluding last year third on the team in points (18) and goals (9). Also on the forward line will be sophomore Maggie Grimes, who finished her first season at Cal with six points.
"Grimes ended up getting our attention during pre-season last year," said Onstead. "She was further along than anticipated, and she has developed really well."
In goal, Cal features sophomore Kelly Knapp, who made five appearances last year with five saves and one shutout. Despite being Cal's only goalkeeper, Knapp has the talent and knowledge to help lead the Bears to another record-setting season.
The Bears have a lot to be excited about this year, including brand-new state-of-the-art turf for their home field and three Eastern trips. Kleeberger Field has undergone renovation and has been renamed Maxwell Family Field, thanks to the generosity of Brian and Jennifer Maxwell.
"Our schedule has gradually been improving," noted Onstead. "Non-Conference play this year is a significant step up, it should give us some good tests. That way I think the team will be less intimidated when we get to the national tournament. They will have seen top level teams throughout the year."
Top opponents that Cal will face include Maryland, who finished last season with a 20-4 overall record and ranked No.2, Ohio State who concluded 2001 ranked No. 8 and Northeastern coming off a 16-7 overall record, ranked No. 19.
The Bears have all the ingredients they need to have another successful year - a great coaching staff, experienced players, new turf and a competitive schedule.
"The team is motivated to get back to the tournament," said Onstead. "A lot of work needs to be done to accomplish that. This group can do it."