Nov. 8, 2010
BERKELEY -The California women's soccer team is going dancing for the 18th year, earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the NCAA Division I Women's Soccer Committee announced Monday afternoon. The Golden Bears (9-5-5/4-4-1 in the Pac-10 Conference) will take on Duke (10-7-3/4-5-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) in the first round of the tournament in Gainesville, Fla. The selection sends Cal to the tournament for the seventh straight season and the 12th time in the last 13 seasons.
"I'm very pleased for the players," Cal head coach Neil McGuire said. "They've worked extremely hard all season. I think they're deserving of this opportunity."
The Bears finished the regular season with a 9-5-5 overall record and closed their conference campaign at 4-4-1 to finish fifth in the competitive conference.
The Blue Devils earned an at-large bid after losing to No. 1 seed Maryland, 1-0, in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, and bring a 10-7-3 overall record into the tournament. Last season, the Blue Devils lost to Rutgers, 2-0, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Mollie Pathman leads the team in points - 21 with eight goals and five assists - while Laura Weinberg has a team-high nine goals with two assists (20 points). In goal, Tara Campbell has 10 wins to her name with 74 saves, seven shutouts and a 1.07 goals-allowed average.
Cal is 0-2 in the all-time series against Duke. The last meeting between the two programs resulted in a 1-0 Blue Devil victory on Oct. 3, 1999. The first meeting saw Duke earn a 4-2 victory on Oct. 2, 1994.
"In Duke, we face a fierce opponent," McGuire noted of his team's first-round opponent. "We'll have to be at our very best to advance."
Cal is no stranger to postseason play in the state of Florida and the city of Gainesville - the Bears have played in Florida in five of the past six NCAA Tournaments. In 2008, the Bears lost to then-No. 7-seed Florida in Gainesville. Cal traveled to Tallahassee for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament last season and in 2006, as well as the third round in 2005.
"It feels absolutely amazing," senior Emily Shibata said of the selection. "I've had a pit in my stomach for too long. I'm excited. We've gone to Florida too many times and come home with a loss, so hopefully the third time's the charm."
Over the course of the season, the Bears have readily outshot their opponents, averaging 13.9 shots per game to the opposition's 10.1. Cal benefitted from and relied upon a balanced attack with multiple Bears who are scoring threats. Current senior and U.S. senior national team member forward Alex Morgan paces the Bears with 14 goals for 19 points. Sophomore forward Lauren Battung is second on the team with six goals in addition to her four assists.
Megan Jesolva leads the Bears with six assists, while 10 other Bears besides Battung and Alex Morgan had scored at least once this season. Freshman forward Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick recently scored the first two goals of her budding Cal career with gamewinners against Oregon and No. 13 Oregon State. In last weekend's victory, freshman goalkeeper Emily Kruger added 15 more saves to bring her grand total to 58 in 1,270 minutes of work.
The Bears learned their fate together on Monday afternoon in the Cal women's basketball locker room. The North Carolina Regional was one of the final brackets to be revealed.
"It was a little nerve wracking," senior Megan Jesolva said of the waiting. "But we know that we've worked hard all season for this. We're ready to go and win."
The winner of the Cal-Duke game will face the winner of the Florida (18-2-2/9-1-1 Southeastern Conference) vs. Mercer (10-8-1/7-3-0 Atlantic-Sun Conference) first-round match. The Gators won their ninth SEC Championship by defeating South Carolina, 1-0, in the final match. In 2009, Florida lost to Oregon State, 1-0, in overtime in the second round. The Bears of Mercer earned the Atlantic-Sun Tournament automatic bid by defeating No. 1 seed Jacksonville, 1-0, in the title game.
The Pac-10 earned seven bids to the 2010 NCAA Tournament - Arizona State, Cal, Oregon State, Stanford (No. 1 Seed), UCLA, USC and Washington. The Pac-10 is second amongst all conferences with seven teams in the tournament.
"There's no question that the Pac-10 has once again proven that it can play soccer at very high level," McGuire said. "Every team is competitive. I'm excited for the conference and each team that was able to go to the tournament."
This marks McGuire's fourth trip the NCAA Tournament in as many years at Cal, as well as in his 10 seasons as a collegiate coach. Prior to coming to Cal, McGuire directed successful rebuilding efforts at Mississippi State and Texas Tech. He was named the 2001 SEC Coach of the Year.
Last season, the Bears advanced to the second round with an overtime win over Auburn before losing to No. 1-seed Florida State. The second-round game against FSU marked the sixth time in the past nine years that the Bears advanced to the second round. They are currently 13-17-1 in 17 appearances in the tournament.
In 2008, Cal received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the program's 10th trip to the Big Dance in the past 11 years. The Bears traveled to Gainesville, Fla., to take on the No. 7 Gators. Even though they put up a very strong showing, outshooting Florida, 14-8, the Bears lost, 2-1.
The Bears advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2007. They defeated Santa Clara, 2-0, in the first round. Cal tied Stanford, 1-1, in the second round, but the Cardinal advanced to the third round by winning the penalty kick shootout, 7-6.
In 2005, Cal advanced to the third round of NCAAs for the first time since 1988.
The Bears' best NCAA Tournament performances were semifinal appearances in 1984, '87 and '88.
The Women's College Cup will occur Dec. 3 and 5 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.