By Jordan Stepp. Cal Athletic Communications
The preseason is done and dusted and now California Golden Bears are set to open their 2014 campaign. Cal is hoping to improve on what was arguably their best season in school history in 2013, where they carried the number one ranking in the country for six consecutive weeks and reached the Quarterfinal of the NCAA Tournament for only the third time in the program’s 107-year history. The Bears will have to begin that journey against top notch competition this week, as they open their season on Friday night in Chapel Hill, N.C. at Fetzer Field against the No. 22 North Carolina Tar Heels at 4 p.m. PT. The road remains tough in their second fixture, as Cal then heads west to Winston-Salem to do battle with the No. 11 Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Sunday at 4 p.m. PT.
“We know they are two excellent teams,” head coach Kevin Grimes said earlier in the week. “They are both ACC opponents who have had a lot of success over the years. It is a great way for us to get running on the right foot and face teams that will push us to our limits. We are going to push them to their limits as well, and I think it will be a great way for us to start the season and be an improved team when the weekend is over. We feel really confident about where we are.”
The Golden Bears are starting their season against to premier programs from the east coast for the second consecutive season, after hosting and defeating the then No. 2 Georgetown Hoyas and No. 3 Maryland Terrapins in Berkeley. Co-captain Dylan Serrano knows that playing top quality opposition is a benefit and also sees the non-conference schedule as a very valuable aspect of the season in terms of building success.
“I think that competing against quality opponents is a good measuring stick,” Serrano said. “We don’t really focus on rankings or anything like that, but I like to play against good teams and I think we all do, it pushes us and makes the games more fun. We are really looking to come together as a team. We’ve really been training hard through the preseason, so it’s really important that everything we have been working on comes together and we are able to smooth out the final bumps so we can show well and have a positive lead-in into the Pac-12 season.”
The Bears finished last season at 14-5-2, and four players were selected in the 2014 Major League Soccer SuperDraft while four more seniors graduated. That said, nine seniors are in tow including a trio of co-captains; midfielder Seth Casiple, defender Dylan Serrano and forward Omid Jalali, Veteran leadership is a major component to success, and the Bears certainly can cross that off of their checklist.
There are nine new faces in Berkeley as well, who figure to provide quality depth to the program. Eight of those are true freshman, and though not all of them may contribute right away, the value in depth is paramount to a successful season. Sophomore Furman transfer Trevor Haberkorn is also new on campus and after spending his freshman season in South Carolina with the Paladins, he is eager to visit that same geographic region early on this season with the Bears.
“Having been out on that side of the country last season, it’s kind of an area that I’m used to,” Haberkorn said after training. “I know the guys are really excited to get our first two games against a pair of great teams in UNC and Wake. Our preseason went really well and these two games will help prepare us for the season ahead.”
After their cross-country jaunt to North Carolina, the Bears return to Edwards Stadium to host their home opener on Friday, Sept. 12 against Cleveland State at 1 p.m. PT. They then appear for the first of 10 times on the Pac-12 Network on Sunday, Sept. 14 against Gonzaga. The Bears wrap up their non-conference schedule against Santa Clara before opening their Pac-12 slate at No. 6 Washington on Oct. 2.
The Pac-12 figures to be extremely competitive yet again, as last year’s conference champion Washington, No. 4 UCLA, Cal and No. 20 Stanford will all be in the national conversation, while San Diego State and Oregon State will be improved outfits in their own right and are always dangerous opponents. Cal wraps their conference and regular season schedule with the second leg of the Bay Area Derby on Nov. 16 at home against Stanford.