Cal looks to build off rough end to 2011

Michael Restrepo/Staff
Sophomore driver Ashley Young was second on the team in scoring with 41 goals for her true freshman season in 2011.

This may be the year for No. 2 Cal women’s water polo.

In 2009, the Bears finished No. 5. In 2010, the team finished third and in 2011, second. Only time will tell where the Bears will finish in 2012, yet the squad has a legitimate shot at winning the program’s first championship with a stellar offense and key returners.

The Bears had a solid 2011 season, finishing 26-5 and then embarking on a memorable run to the national championship. Cal defeated UC San Diego in the first round, then traditional powerhouse UCLA in the semifinals, only to run into rival Stanford in the title match. The Cardinal buried the Bears early in the game, creating a hole Cal was not able to climb out of, losing 9-5.

“It was the best result that Cal women’s water polo ever had, so it was such an amazing achievement,” senior Elizabeth McLaren said. “But at the same time it’s disappointing, having worked so hard to win the national championship and then getting so far and then losing in the championship game. They just got the best of us, but’s that’s sports.”

The disappointment of losing to their Bay Area rival was only worsened by the departure of star athlete Emily Csikos to team Canada for this year’s London Olympics. Nevertheless, the Bears still have high expectations for this season despite last year’s disappointment, especially after receiving a No. 2 ranking in the preseason polls.

Cal competes in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), which includes No. 1 Stanford and UCLA and USC — both tied for No. 3 nationally — thus putting the Bears’ focus on qualifying for nationals a top priority.

“You can’t put the cart before the horse, you got to take it one quarter and one game at a time to qualify,” Corso said.

Cal has lofty expectations with the return of a strong class of juniors including Dana Ochsner (second-team All-American), Breda Vosters (third-team All-American) and Kirstn Mase to join McLaren. Vosters, McLaren and Oschsner, who were first, third and fourth on the team in scoring, will fuel a high-powered offense this year, yet defense still remains a question.

“Our team is pretty well-rounded, but we need to keep working on defense because that’s where our team is going to win games, with defense, because we have such a great offensive line that goals will happen,” McLaren said.

Along with the older veterans, the younger members of the team hope to provide significant contributions and demonstrate the squad’s depth up and down the board. Both sophomores Ashley Young and Kelly Mendoza had breakout years last year and will make a huge splash on the national stage this year. While Young was an honorable mention all-American, Mendoza scored 27 goals in 31 contests and was voted to the 2011 MPSF all-Newcomer team.

“My ultimate dream is to go six-for-six. Six players for six players, two lines. Boom,” Corso said. “That has always been my dream at Cal. We are getting closer to that, but I’m no quite sure we are ready for that. But six-for-six, that’s the dream.”

Whether or not the upward trend continues for the Bears, this year’s team is one of the best in program history

“This team has the most potential,” McLaren said. “Individually really talented, and as a team, it’s very cohesive. I feel like this year is the year we are going to win it.”