Bears fall short again of high hopes

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At the beginning of the season, midfielder Betsy Hassett declared two goals for the season: to win the Pac-12 and to advance past the second round in the NCAA tournament.

The Cal women’s soccer team couldn’t achieve either of Hassett’s goals.

The Bears’ 16-6 season landed them directly behind the No. 2 Bruins and the No. 1 Cardinal in the conference standings.

The squad made the NCAA tournament but was eliminated by two-seed San Diego State after again advancing only to the second round.

“We think we could have made it to the third round at least,” Hassett said. “We’ve made the second round the last two years so my goal was to get to the third.”

Though the season’s outcome seems mediocre in terms of the Bears’ preseason goals, the year was largely a success for Cal.

After a strong run in conference play, the Bears earned a postseason berth. The squad beat a formidable Pepperdine team on the road before advancing to play the Aztecs.

“We did not have an easy road,” said head coach Neil McGuire. “We went into the game confident, but unfortunately we were not able to put that match away.

“We are disappointed we lost because we felt like we had an opportunity to go further in tournament.”

Despite another premature elimination from the tournament, No. 13 Cal displayed itself to be one of the most dangerous squads in the country.

The squad ranked as high as No. 10 heading into the end of the regular season, accruing an eight-game winning streak and lost only one road game.

“We played some tremendous soccer,” McGuire said. “We showed consistency with our play, and our players were really motivated and worked really well together.”

The Bears demonstrated their tenacity and teamwork in the regular-season closer against No. 1 Stanford. Pac-12 champions Stanford scored within the first four minutes of the game, but the Bears took the offensive and forced the Cardinal to defend its lead nonstop through the rest of regulation. Though Cal lost the match, the squad served as the biggest threat to the Cardinal’s formidable record.

“Our team’s resolve and commitment to get back in the game was inspiring,” McGuire said. “We were able to hold Stanford to one goal and we showed ourselves to be very competitive with, arguably, the best team in the country.”

With this season behind them, the Bears are focused on sending their seniors off and ushering in the next generation of Bears. Cal will lose four seniors this year, including the Olympian Hassett and key offensive players Samantha Walker and Lauren Battung.

Despite the loss in firepower, the Bears already have rising stars filling the void. Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Ifeoma Onumonu proved herself to be a prolific goalscorer, leading the Bears with 11 goals.

“Every graduating class has people we are sad to let go, but that leaves space for people to step up,” McGuire said. “You can never replace what you lost, but you can bring in players who can do a similar job.”

With another successful season in the books, the Bears will continue to march toward the ultimate goal that eluded them yet again this year: winning the national championships.

To do so, the squad will have to achieve Hassett’s second goal of advancing farther in the tournament.

“This program has always been successful and highly competitive on the national scale, and next year will be another step in the right direction,” McGuire said. “The goal is to win national championship and the players are very committed and motivated to do that.”

Taylor Brink covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected]