BERKELEY - Cal’s women’s soccer team has advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in five of the past seven years. But the Bears want more.
With an experienced nucleus of returning players and a promising influx of young talent, 2013 could be the season for the Bears to get what they want.
Cal opened training camp for the 2013 season on Wednesday at Edwards Stadium, armed with high hopes that are tempered with a live-in-the-present mentality.
“We feel like we can challenge in the upper echelon of the conference, which is very deep and very talented,” said Cal seventh-year coach Neil McGuire. “Our team is old. Many of our seniors have started since their freshman year. They won’t be rattled by much. They’ve experienced so much. We feel we are going to be a competitive team.”
The Bears went 16-6 last season finished in third place in the Pac-12 standings behind Stanford and UCLA, which were each ranked in the top-5 nationally for much of the season and played each other in the NCAA Elite Eight. After defeating Pepperdine in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Cal fell to San Diego State on its home field in the second round.
The Bears have advanced to nine consecutive NCAA Tournaments and have missed the postseason just once in the past 15 years. The last time they got past the second round came in 2005, and the Bears are hoping for at least that much success this year.
“Our goal is to win one game at a time,” senior defender Emi Lawson said. “That will get us further than anything else. As long as we focus on the small things, that’s what’s going to make a great season for us. My expectation is we play great soccer every time we step on the field, and the rest will take care of itself.”
The Bears had a bounce in their step as they took the field under overcast skies Wednesday morning. Lawson said “it was the best I’ve ever seen us on the first day of training.” It was the Bears’ first organized on-field team activity since they took a trip to Costa Rica in June to play a series of exhibition matches and engage in team bonding.
“Costa Rica was another building block,” Lawson said. “This team has been generating a culture where we are all one team. We’re not seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen. Costa Rica really gave us an opportunity to get to know each other, from all the different classes. Now that we are back on the field, we are able to look at our teammate, no matter what year they are, and know it’s about soccer and getting better. We build that bond off the field.”
One person who was missing on the first day of camp was 2012 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Ifeoma Onumonu, who is currently training with the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team. She will play in matches against the Japan U-20 squad today and Sunday before returning to join her Cal teammates.
“She’s going to learn a lot playing with some of the best players in the country and the world,” McGuire said. “She’s going to be challenged in ways collegiate programs can’t challenge you. The coaches are going to really help develop her. It can only be a good thing for us. It’s just great to see that the national team program feels that Cal can produce players.”
The Bears open the season Aug. 23 at UC Irvine.