March 1, 2013
BERKELEY -When the California lacrosse team takes the field in its 2013 home opener against Saint Mary's Tuesday afternoon, the Golden Bears will be able to breathe a sigh of relief before the game even starts.
Whether or not they defeat the Gaels, the Bears will be winners in the sense that they have finally come home to Memorial Stadium.
The game will be especially emotional for the Bears' senior class - Ana Cyr, Melissa Humphrey, Kelly McCarthy, Sarah Milik, Alexa Rozelle, Megan Takacs and redshirt junior Molly Crawford. These are the only current Cal players who experienced playing in the old Memorial Stadium as freshmen. In addition to the change of venue, they survived the near end of their program due to university budget cuts and they went through the transition of a new head coach and staff.
Finally the era of uncertainty, transitions and temporary changes has come to an end. The Bears finally get to come home.
"Looking back on the crazy ride our program has been through, it seems only fitting that my career gets to end in Memorial Stadium," Humphrey said. "It feels as if we just went through our own chaotic version of the Odyssey, and we have finally made it back home where we belong. As a freshman playing in Memorial Stadium, I didn't really understand the pride that you're supposed to feel when you play a home game - I just went along for the ride. When we moved up to Witter, our team never fully gained that sense of ownership either. Now that we are back in Memorial, I think our entire team really believes that this is where we are meant to be and nobody can take it away from us. With that pride and love of our home turf driving us, our team is capable of anything this year."
The Bears called Witter Rugby Field home for the 2011 and 2012 campaigns. The team enjoyed playing in the quaint environment at Witter, but they knew in the back of their minds that it wasn't their true home field. It just wasn't the same.
"It's pretty special," Takacs said about returning to Memorial Stadium. "Although Witter field was special as well because of the intimate atmosphere of having fans so close to the pitch, our team and football are the only two teams at Cal who get to play at Memorial Stadium. My class will start and end our playing career on that field. We have to embrace how cool of an experience it is to be playing at the brand new Memorial Stadium."
Added Milik: "It feels great. I feel so honored to be able to play in Memorial Stadium at Cal. The field and facilities that we have are unbelievable. I'm excited for California Lacrosse to become part of the great history of this stadium."
When the Bears finally got to dig into the FieldTurf at Memorial Stadium, they couldn't have been happier with the experience.
"The first time we got to practice at Memorial Stadium for the first time since the renovations, you could seriously feel the energy in each and every one of us," Humphrey said. "It was amazing. We had already being using the new locker rooms and weight room for several months, so to finally get to play in the stadium really brought it all full circle for us. We heard for so long about how great the new facilities were going to be, but everything was so much more amazing than we had imagined."
One of the goals with the renovation of Memorial Stadium was to preserve its history so everyone in the Cal community will always remember and cherish the rich tradition that comes with the venue.
When Rozelle and the rest of the Bears first stepped foot inside the stadium and explored all the surrounding areas, they definitely noticed the combination of new and old.
"I am so happy that the historic feel of the stadium was not sacrificed from the renovations," Rozelle said. "You still get that same feeling of amazement and awe when you walk through the tunnel. However, now when you look up and see the press boxes and the facilities that are inside, that feeling is amplified to another level."
With so many amenities like study facilities, dining halls, locker rooms, training rooms and a large weight room, the entire Student-Athlete High Performance Center has become a second home for the Bears. The facility also allows for the lacrosse team to bond with Cal student-athletes from other programs.
Like all of the Bears, Rozelle has taken full advantage of the new opportunities that have come with not only Memorial Stadium but also the high performance center.
"The locker rooms, weight room and sports medicine facilities are truly incredible," Rozelle said. "We now have the facilities to support the caliber of athletes at Cal. We have greatly improved our strength and conditioning with the new resources available to us. One new addition we have that I think is particularly beneficial is the underwater treadmill. I have personally had the opportunity to use this in the past for diversifying my conditioning."
Tuesday's game against Saint Mary's kickoffs a four-game homestand so Cal will get plenty of opportunities to get adjusted and settled into their new home of old.