In more ways than one, Cal field hockey is in the process of coming out of the Dark Ages. Not having finished over .500 since the 2011-12 season, and ending with a record of 5-13 (1-5 in conference play) last season, the benchmarks for success are modest.
But after two years of playing their home games on Stanford’s campus and one season of playing on a temporary and underwhelming Underhill Field, the team will now be playing on their own turf with permanent stands and facilities — a major upgrade. Whether the aesthetic upgrade means better on field results has yet to be seen.
A little more home-field advantage could certainly help out a good deal — last season’s 1-6 mark on campus clearly gave no aid to the formerly nomadic squad. Their only home win, and sole conference victory as well, was a 5-1 trouncing of UC Davis, a team which has yet to finish over .500 in team history. But with three of those home losses coming by only one goal, the path for improvement isn’t too far away.
The most exciting on-field addition will be freshman Megan Rodgers, who comes in with a major pedigree, having been selected for the U-19 Junior National Camp. That honor was the latest in a series of accolades which include playing for the U-17 team as well as winning MVP awards and tournament titles in high school.
As the Bears return their top three starters from the past season, as well as sophomore Katrina Carter, who showed major signs of improvement over here freshman season, the offense should take a major step forward.
Carter was briefly with the Team USA U-21 squad this summer, so she and Rodgers have the chance to form a very formidable young pair. It’s been four seasons since the team managed to average two goals per game and it looks like this will be their best shot in a while.
Efficiency will the name of the game on offense. Last season’s squad was outscored by more than a goal on average last season despite a small disparity in the actual number of shots taken by Cal and its opponents. The quality of shot and shotmaking is what needs to improve to give the Bears life on the offensive end, and with an excellent combination of experience and new talent, that area is likely to improve.
The limited loss of high scorers may slightly mitigate how much has to be made up for in departures — two of the top four players, in terms of minute spent on the field, (Monica Marrazzo and Keats Iwanaga) are not returning this season. Last season’s initial starting goalkeeper, Kori Griswold, has also departed, but sophomore Danielle Mentink had already taken over primary goalkeeping duties by the later half of the season.
The Bears will start the season off with four straight home games, which would ideally allow them to flex a new ability to raise their level of play in front of fans, but they’ll have their work cut out for them with a tough slate of opponents.
Cal’s matchups against Stanford, which have been quite the lopsided rivalry in favor of the Cardinal, are not until the very end of the season, so good early season play can mean a lot for the team mentally heading into the home stretch.
The Bears made a run to the semifinals of the American East Conference tournament last season before being eliminated by Stanford, and they’ll try to avoid being outplayed by the Cardinal late in the season again this year.