BERKELEY --In 2013, Cal punched its ticket to the NCAA postseason for the 10th consecutive year thanks to an 11-senior roster brimming with leadership. In 2014, however, that veteran regime has graduated, leaving the women’s soccer squad with young, untested talent as this year the 32-woman roster features 19 freshmen and sophomores. The young team, ranked No. 23 in the country according to Soccer America, takes to the pitch for its first test Friday in a home opener vs. San Francisco at 7 p.m. on Goldman Field. The new Bears will soon face another test in Bay Area rival No. 10/20 Santa Clara on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Buck Shaw Stadium at the same site where Cal’s 2013 season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Friday’s match will be televised live on the Pac-12 Networks, with live stats on CalBears.com. Live stats for Sunday’s Santa Clara game can be accessed via SantaClaraBroncos.com. Scoring updates for both games will be provided on the @CalWomensSoccer Twitter account.
FRESH FACES Cal’s 32-woman roster in 2014 will feature a much different look for the Golden Bears than the previous several years. With the departure of veteran starters such as Rachel Mercik, Emi Lawson, Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick and Emily Kruger, the Bears are left with 12 newcomers to add to seven returning sophomores and 13 juniors and seniors.
TOP 5 TALENT With four players ranked on TopDrawerSoccer.com’s national Top 50 list, head coach Neil McGuire’s 2014 signing class has been touted as one of the country’s top 5 recruiting classes. Among the standouts are Emily Boyd (No. 5 goalie in the class of 2014), Annia Mejia (Mexican U-20 National Team) and Indigo Gibson (No. 12 overall in 2014)
CAL CONNECTIONS From players to coaching staff, connections abound in this weekend’s matchups. Friday’s USF match will be a bit of a homecoming for associate head coach Maite Zabala, the Golden Bears’ standout goalie from 1997-2000 who until 2013 held Cal’s all-time saves record. Freshman Guro Bergsvand completes the Cal-USF connection as her father, Jo Bersgvand, helped lead the Dons to the 1980 men’s soccer national championship as a leader in the defensive backfield.
Cal’s strongest connection to Santa Clara is via volunteer coach and former U.S. National Team player Brandi Chastain. Before she was a Bronco, Chastain was a Golden Bear, attending Cal in 1986 and earning All-America honors before ultimately transferring to Santa Clara following two years of ACL reconstruction surgeries. Additionally, sophomore Jordan Jesolva is the younger sister of Megan Jesolva, a Cal standout and former professional soccer player for the Atlanta Beat.
PRESEASON PROWESS Two Golden Bears are already capturing the attention of the women’s soccer world. Indigo Gibson was named to TopDrawerSoccer’s preseason Best XI Freshmen Team. CollegeSportsMadness selected Ifeoma Onumonu to its Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference First Team.
PAC-12 PRESEASON COACHES POLL For the third consecutive year, Pac-12 coaches predicted Cal will finish third in the conference behind 2013 Pac-12 champion UCLA and Stanford. In 2013, the Golden Bears finished fifth with a 4-4-3 conference record.
INTERNATIONAL INFLUX The recent graduation of a star-studded senior lineup heralded in an influx of international representation for the Golden Bears. Joining stars like Alex Morgan (US Women’s National Team, Portland Thorns), Katrin Omarsdottir (Iceland National Team, Liverpool LFC) and Betsy Hassett (New Zealand National Team, Manchester City) in the international ranks are a trio of Golden Bears. This summer, Genessee Daughetee (Montpellier Hérault), Emily Kruger (KR Reykjavik) and Nina Pedersen (Liverpool LFC) all inked professional soccer contracts.
2013 IN REVIEW The Bears started 2013 on a hot streak, going 13 games unbeaten before UCLA handed Cal its first loss of the season. It was the program’s best start since 2000 and only the fifth time in program history that the team had gone unbeaten through 12 or more games to start the season.
After the UCLA loss, the Bears went winless through four more games before notching a crucial 1-0 victory over Washington to keep their tournament hopes alive. Following the Washington game, Cal traveled to Stanford, where the Bears beat the Cardinal for the first time in seven years on the heels of a golden goal from Rachel Mercik. It was the first win against Stanford since Neil McGuire became head coach.
The Golden Bears earned their 10th consecutive postseason berth and traveled to Santa Clara for the second time in 2013, eventually losing 2-1 at Buck Shaw Stadium to end the season.
Emi Lawson, Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick and Ifeoma Onumonu were voted to NSCAA All-Pacific Region teams, and Lawson, Onumonu and Mercik were named to All-Pac-12 teams. In the classroom, the Bears collected 11 Pac-12 All-Academic honors and Lawson was named an NSCAA Scholar All-American.