Sept. 14, 1999
BERKELEY - When Shellie Onstead wrapped up her recruiting for 1996, she knew the players she signed had the potential to make some noise on the field. Now, as the group has matured into seniors, her vision seems to be coming true.
The Bears, who are coming off a 9-8 campaign and a third-place finish in the NorPac Conference Tournament, believe they have the potential to be a Top 20 team. Cal returns its top six leading scorers from last year, an all-conference back and its starting goalkeeper. Among that group are six seniors, giving the Bears the veteran presence they need to make a run for the top.
"They show a lot of leadership on the field," Onstead said of her senior class. "They are more poised and seem to be very aware that this is their senior year. They want to make it something special."
Onstead has even compared her seniors to a hurricane, hovering offshore and gathering steam before eventually hitting land. "You don't know when it's going to happen or how ferocious it's going to be," said Onstead, who is entering her fifth season at the helm of the Cal program. "It's been building for three years. This was my first full recruiting class. The players know each other well, and they're a tight group."
Adding extra incentive this season is the fact that an NCAA Tournament berth is within grasp. Cal won three straight NorPac titles and advanced to the postseason each of those years in the mid-1990s. But the NorPac, which then consisted of just three teams, lost its automatic bid for the conference champion. Now, with three more teams in the league, the winner of the new NorPac will have a play-in game with another conference champ for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
With a large freshman contingent, including several players who could contribute immediately, Onstead expects their year's team to have as much firepower as any Cal team in recent years. Leading the pack is senior forward Megan Sainsbury, who has paced the Bears in scoring in each of her first three seasons. A second team regional All-American last fall, she is also a two-time All-NorPac selection.
"I think we're going to have more offense than we're used to having, mainly because of the maturity of the front line," Onstead said. "Megan is coming into her own and can dominate from her spot at the center forward."
Entering her senior year, Sainsbury has totaled 13 goals and 17 assists to put her fifth on Cal's career list with 43 points. She is also poised to overtake Onstead, a Cal standout from 1980-82 who finished with 18 assists, for the career assist mark.
"Teams are going to look out for her, and I think they're going to make it harder for her," said Onstead. "But that will allow her to set up other people. She's very unselfish, almost to a fault. If she were more selfish, she'd have more goals."
In addition to Sainsbury, the Bears have two other players who have earned all-conference honors - senior back Sara Baron as a sophomore in 1997 and senior back Robin Reschke last year. Baron had five goals and a team-leading three defensive saves in '98, while Reschke picked up a goal in the '98 finale and added one defensive save.
"Defenders don't get a lot of credit because there aren't many stats for them," said Onstead. "Sara B. is the anchor of the defense and gives them a lot of poise, and Robin, at left back, helps shut down the other team's attack."
All-around senior Catlin Braucht, who has played a number of positions for the Bears, seems to have settled in at center-midfield. Braucht tied for second on the team with five goals there last season, including the game-winner in a 1-0 victory over Northwestern. She also put home the winning goal in a 3-2 triumph over Pacific.
Deborah Clark and twins Kelli and Karin Mirassou round out the senior class. Clark tallied four goals from her back position last year, with forward Kelli Mirassou adding four goals and two assists and Karin Mirassou providing valuable depth from the backfield.
Sophomore midfielder/forward Elizabeth Harkins quickly adapted to the college level last fall with five goals and three assists, even scoring the winning goal in Cal's season-opening 3-2 victory against Providence.
The Bears frontline will also benefit from a more experienced Amber Stockstill, who appeared in 14 contests as a freshman last year, and Amber Olsen, a junior who will also help out in the midfield.
The addition of freshman forward/midfielder Lieke Zoete from the Netherlands and freshman back/midfielder Annika Kuefer of Germany will give Cal two foreign recruits who should see playing time right away.
"For their age, their stick skills are better than most of our players," said Onstead. "That's good for everybody because it helps our team get better."
In goal, junior Sarah Hoehn returns after starting all 17 games in 1998 when she posted a 1.60 goals-against average to rank 17th in the country. She will be backed up in the net by Emily Rowlen, a freshman out of San Pasqual HS in Escondido.
With their home surface - Kleeberger Field - having the turf refurbished this fall, the Bears won't play a true home game until October. During the first six weeks of the seasons, Cal will make two significant trips, starting with three NorPac games in Springfield, Mo. In late September, the Bears will travel to Michigan to face Ohio University, Michigan State and Michigan.
"The trip is important for getting the team ready for when they're going to have to shine," said Onstead. "Every time we go up against out-of-conference teams, it gives us a good sense of what we're made of. That scheduling is important for peaking at the right time."
This season, Onstead hopes that effort carries the Bears to a NorPac Conference championship and a return to the NCAA Tournament.