Cal lacrosse to face stiff competition in new conference

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Sam Engel/File

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The framework is now in place, the system has been built, and offseason sweat has been spilled. For Cal women’s lacrosse, it’s all about stepping up to the plate with that “winner’s mentality.” At least, that’s what the players will tell you.

“(Winners’ mentality) is really about work ethic — mindset is really what we are trying to focus on this year,” said Cal head coach Brooke Eubanks. “Putting our best foot forward, whether its on the field, making sure we are doing the details of touching every line or running out shots. That, to us, is winner’s mentality,”

The Bears will be one of the six teams to participate in the the Pac-12’s first season of women’s lacrosse, and it will quickly need to establish a renewed sense of unity having lost major leaders and offensive weapons. Entering its latest campaign, Cal has a new mantra floating around its locker room.

In their previous season, the Bears’ last-minute regular-season groove earned them their first MPSF conference tournament appearance since 2013. Amidst a struggling season (5-13 overall), wins over UC Davis and Fresno State helped Cal achieve this season goal.

The scenario in 2018, however, will play out much differently. Neither the Aggies nor Bulldogs will be conference opponents, meaning the most signficant games will be against more troublesome opponents.

The move to the Pac-12 pits the Bears against opponents against whom they struggled last season. Their 2017 meetings with their now-conference opponents resulted in a combined 0-4 record with a losing margin of 41 goals.

This new conference includes No. 8 USC and No. 16 Colorado. Even unranked Stanford could give the Bears trouble, as the Cardinal nearly upset the Buffaloes in the conference semifinal last year.

Cal’s debut season in the Pac-12 may be haunted by the absence of crucial pieces from last season’s team. The Bears lost three of their top-five goal scorers — graduates Elizabeth Pellechi, Jena Fritts and Caroline Schlegel.

These three players accounted for 97 of the Bears’ 210 goals last season — more than 40 percent of the team’s scores. More than just numbers, these seniors played key leadership roles, as Schlegel and Fritts were also team captains.

“Obviously they left some big shoes for us to fill, but team offense is not something new,” Eubanks said. “I think we’ve built a system where the next players are just going to step in line and fill those roles.”

At the forefront of those with high expectations on the upcoming team is defensive stud senior Meredith Haggerty. The Maryland native’s performance last season earned her a spot on the All-MPSF First Team.

Other exciting returners include the pair of East Coasters, sophomore Susie Ropp and junior Jenny Wilkens, who respectively earned Rookie of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week accolades last season.

As a freshman last season, Ropp totaled the third-highest number of goals on the team and the most of any returning Bear. Wilkens has excelled in her position as goalkeeper, tallying more than eight double-digit-save games in 2017.

The developing squad will initiate their journey in Davis as the Bears face the Aggies on Feb. 9. The true tests begin when conference play begins in Oregon on March 9. Cal will face each of their five conference teams twice throughout the regular season, and these games will likely prove the biggest challenges of all.

Armen Aprahamian covers lacrosse. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @armnhammer_.