By Dean Caparaz ’90
BERKELEY – They’ve traded the Palm, Prospect House and other East Bay haunts for Maryland, San Francisco and a myriad other destinations since leaving college. But on April 6, the Golden Bears returned to Berkeley – the site of some of their greatest accomplishments – for a reunion a long time in the making.
These Golden Bears were the California lacrosse alumnae who converged at their alma mater for the 15-year anniversary – and first true reunion – of the program. Eighty to ninety people attended the celebration including Jill Malko, Cal’s first head coach, who was one of the architects of the event along with alumnae including Emi Tomijima and Meghan Bushnell. Since leaving her head coaching post, Malko has worked in fundraising at Cal, and she is now the Associate Director, Northern California, for University Relations.
“We have a great breadth of representation from the early years to the most recent years,” Malko said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm and there are a lot of people excited to see each other. It brings back good memories for folks. Any time you do that it’s a great event.
“It’s amazing to see some of the women I knew when they were young who’ve grown up to be successful young women, starting families, creating businesses and carrying the success they had in college into their post-college lives. It’s exciting to see their kids and hear them share their past and their present. That’s the greatest thing for me.”
The alumnae included Jessica Garcia-Viripaeff, Heather Mozdean and Kelly Thompson, who were members of the first Cal team in 1999. Also present were Sarah Wheatley (class of 2002), Carley Preble (2004), Laura Cavallo (2007), Cristen Andrews (2008), DennaFaye Herald (2010), Tori Harrison (2012), 2013 graduates Megan Takacs and Melissa Humphrey, former assistant coach Mary Beth (Noel) Todd and a host of others.
The Bears met at Lisa and Douglas Goldman Plaza for the celebration prior to attending the 2014 Bears’ afternoon match against USC at Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium.
“This is awesome,” said Sam Price, a class of 2007 alum. “I live back in Maryland, and I don’t see a lot of these people very much. I have such a special bond with a lot of these girls and the coaches. It’s so great to see everyone, come together and just talk about our experiences at Cal. Jill did a wonderful job in putting this together.”
“It’s wonderful,” echoed Alex Tickner, class of 2010. “You meet a lot of people through work or college, but there are very few people you connect with as much as your teams.”
Price, who recently earned her MBA, works in fundraising, event management and public relations for a non-profit back east. Tickner works in business development and sales for a bio-tech recruitment firm in San Francisco.
For many of the alums, the reunion provided their first glimpse of the renovated stadium, resources and improved facilities – including a nice, new lacrosse locker room – as they took a tour of the stadium and of the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete Performance.
One of those who toured the new digs was Megan (Cavalier) Melief from the class of 2005. Along with Reifsnyder and Cavallo, Melief was a member of the Cal squad that won the inaugural MPSF championship in 2004. She now works as an assistant winemaker in Napa.
“We’re very excited for the program, and a little jealous,” Melief laughed. “Everyone walked through the facilities here and joked that we should’ve been younger and come here now. But it’s great for the program. A lot of schools have great facilities, and it’s nice to see that Cal can now compete with that and give all the student-athletes everything that they need.”
“Their locker room is a little nicer than ours was,” added Ghillie Little, class of 2009. “I was lucky enough to come back here last year when my sister (former Bear Clemmy Little) was still here, and I got a tour. It’s pretty amazing. The facilities are just absolutely out of this world from the weight room to the training room and all the other resources they now have. It’s exciting to see where they’ll go from here with all the new facilities.”
The Cal Athletics Development department addressed the assembled alums, parents and friends at the plaza to discuss contributions to the lacrosse program.
“A big part of development and advancement work is engagement, and part of that is just awareness,” said Phil Esten, Cal’s Deputy Director of Athletics, External Relations. “This is an important part of building affinity, of strengthening affinity for the program, for Cal. It’s really neat to see younger alumni and older alumni who graduated several years ago come together and celebrate together. That’s really important because support of this program has really got to be a community effort; it isn’t one or two people. As we all know, it’s supported by the universe of Cal lacrosse, and that’s an important part.”
As the celebration wound down, the alums walked to their seats to watch the game; later at halftime they would gather again this time on the field and receive kudos for their accomplishments.
For some, this marked one of the first Cal lacrosse games they had seen in years.
“The last time I saw a game, I was living on the East Coast for a long time and I went to a game in Fairfield, Conn., when Alex was still playing (in 2010),” said Liz Reifsnyder (2007), who works in business development for a start-up in Los Angeles. “So I’m pumped!”
Tickner added one last thought, “It just feels like no time has passed and we’re ready to go on the field again and beat USC. Go Bears!”