Jan. 30, 2013
BERKELEY -With the return of the reigning MPSF Player of the Year and numerous other key veterans back in the mix, the California women's lacrosse team is looking to turn some heads, get over the hump and be a true contender to bring home its second conference championship in school history in 2013.
Having finished in the middle of the pack in fourth place the past two seasons, second-year head coach Ginger Miles sees this year's Golden Bears as not only a talented group of student-athletes, but also an experienced and extremely motivated group. As Miles put it herself, it's a group that will not settle for mediocrity.
"We absolutely think that we have the talent and the desire to win the conference this year," Miles said. "We've been working really hard all fall and so far this spring, and we hope to put ourselves in a position to compete for that MPSF championship. This team will raise some eyebrows this year. It's not just our skill but also how badly we want it and how hard we're willing to work to get there. This is a team that hasn't shied away from the hard work that it takes to be a championship caliber team. I'm really excited to see how it all plays out."
Miles' used last season's sub-par finish as a tool to motivate her squad to come back more determined, focused and hungrier to raise its level of expectations for this season. The end result of all the offseason hard work is a team that has greatly raised its confidence. After holding its own against national teams during the fall ball season, Cal feels like it has put together an MPSF-championships caliber team.
Another nice advantage for the Bears will be returning to newly-renovated Memorial Stadium after calling Witter Rugby Field home for the past two seasons. Miles and the Bears are excited to take advantage of the fantastic facility and enjoy a true home-field advantage.
Cal hopes to break in the new digs with an offensive explosion; the focal point of which will be the 2012 MPSF Player of the Year, senior attacker Megan Takacs. After posting 53 goals as a junior, Takacs was forced to sit for the final three games after suffering an ACL injury. While Miles intends to take things slowly with Takacs at the start of the year, Takacs is back to 100 percent health and fully intends to pick up where she left off.
"We just want her to be healthy at the end of the season," Miles said. "I have no doubt that she'll hit the ground running. She blew the lid off of our expectations last year. With the confidence she's bringing into this season, she's going to blow the lid off of it again. She has the want, the hunger and the determination every single day to help this team. She's a very selfless player. She just wants to help this team win any way she can. She'll step into any role that we need her to. She'll have a huge impact on our success this season."
If defenses simply gameplan to concentrate on stopping Takacs, they're going to get a rude awakening when they realize she isn't the only strong offensive weapon the Bears have in their arsenal. Senior attacker Melissa Humphrey is back after posting 61 points last season, fifth all-time at Cal. After having put her name in the Cal record book numerous times in 2012, Humphrey earned All-MPSF and MPSF All-Academic team honors.
"It's almost a shame for Melissa that Megan had such a good year last year and she had to kind of hang out in her shadow," Miles said. "We asked Mel to step up in a huge role last year and she's always been a contributor for this team. We asked her to fill some really huge shoes and she did that without blinking. She's somebody that I know will continue to grow as a player. She's more dynamic than she even showed last year. She stepped into that `quarterback' role for us last year, but this year, I'm sure her role will grow even more. She's capable of doing more for us, and I can't wait to see what she's going to do this year."
Defensively, junior goalie Megan McGinnis returns to the cage with a year of experience under her belt after being Cal's starting keeper as a sophomore. McGinnis started all 16 games in 2012, posting a .432 save percentage (131-172) with a goals-against average of 10.91.
"When she's on it's almost impossible to score on Megan," Miles said. "I know she's going to be a rock for us in the cage. She's been working really hard to get to where she needs to be in terms of fitness and mindset. I think there were some sophomore woes. It's a tough position to play, especially as a sophomore. There is so much pressure, but she's going to take the experience she gained last year and really put it to use. She's had a phenomenal first couple of practices. I can't wait to see her stand on her head for us this year."
"Grace has been a steadfast defender for us," Miles said. "She comes with a great amount of confidence, poise and discipline. She isn't afraid of any matchup. We know she's going to do really well for us this year. Sarah has grown in terms of confidence and has really worked hard to make sure her senior year goes as well as it can. She came back a totally different athlete, in much better shape and she's walking in with a ton of confidence. We're going to be a tough team to score on."
One returner Miles said to keep an eye on is sophomore midfielder Gaby Christman. Appearing in all 16 games as a freshman, Christman garnered MPSF All-Tournament honors after scoring three goals against Oregon in the semifinals. Her 26 ground balls on the season tied for the team lead.
"We may see a lot more out of Gaby Christmas this year than we saw last year," Mile said. "She surprised some folks at the end of last year at the MPSF Tournament. I think she'll continue to surprise people. We used her in a defensive role last year, but she's a true middie. I think she's going to grab that bull by the horns. She plays fearless every day."
While Miles is excited to see what all seven of her freshmen can do this year, she pointed to attacker Lizz Lavie as somebody to watch for a breakout season.
"I would expect Lizz to have an immediate impact for us," Miles said. "She works hard every day at practice and she has tremendous fundamentals. She's pretty unflappable. A lot of freshmen can be pretty wide-eyed, but Lizz is as solid as they come. She will take advantage of every opportunity that she gets on the field in whatever role we put her in. We're really excited to have her."
Just as the Bears expect to keep improving, the MPSF conference as a whole is getting stronger and stronger. Oregon comes in as the reigning MPSF champion, while Stanford and Denver will be among the other MPSF title contenders.
The higher level of adversity doesn't faze Miles and the Bears one bit. They welcome the challenge.
"The conference will continue to get stronger each year, but I think we stack up really well," Miles said. "We did well last year and then came just shy of really accomplishing what we wanted to accomplish. This team that we have now has the right mindset to get over that hump. We want more and we expect more of ourselves every day. The top teams in the conference will still be pretty tough competition for us, and we know that we've got new programs nipping at our heels every day. That's going to drive our kids to work harder every day."
Cal opens the 2013 campaign on Thursday, Feb. 21, at James Madison. The Bears' home opener is slated for Tuesday, March 5, against Saint Mary's at 4 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.