Cal lacrosse’s 2018 season follows program’s trend of growth in last 3 years

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Michael Wan/File

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From their initial goal to take on a “winner’s mentality” at the beginning of the season to their first Pac-12 playoff tournament, the Bears have experienced great strides of growth. While the team’s 6-12 record may not be stellar without any context, Cal lacrosse achieved its best season win total and percentage since 2013.

“We’ve made a ton of progress this year. I know sometimes it’s hard for outsiders to see that, but every year I have been here we have won one more game than we had the year before and we continue to do that,” said Cal head coach Brooke Eubanks, who has had the position since the 2015 season. “When you look at the scores of games compared to last year, we have closed the gap on a handful … and that’s really exciting — it’s something to look forward to in the future.”

A momentous juncture for the Bears came April 13, when Cal defeated Oregon at home to take its first Pac-12 conference victory. After losing 12-7 to the Ducks in Eugene, the Bears turned their play around and defended their home field, outmatching Oregon from start to finish.

In the Pac-12’s inaugural season of women’s lacrosse, the Bears held on during the competitive ride. The conference had three teams finish in the top 25, according to the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse RPI, with Cal finishing at No. 73.

After losing three of their top scorers from last season, redshirt sophomores Kirsten Swanson and Eliza Christman filled in the spaces in a major way. Swanson went from 20 goals in the 2017 season to a team-leading 43 goals this season, while Christman jumped from five goals to 33.

Quietly, junior attacker Caroline Corzel kept up her solid numbers, scoring 23 this season, which was four more than her previous season.

“You change your mentality as a coach with them as well,” Eubanks said. “As the team grows, … you have got to grow as well and be adaptable throughout the three or four months of season.”

One of the bigger developments of the season, freshman attacker Nikki Zaccaro dazzled with her ability to pass the ball later in the season. Zaccaro’s 20 assists led the team and tied for fifth place in the whole conference.

“Nikki really hit her stride and started being more confident as … a contributor from the back of the net, which is where a lot of the offense is generated from,” Eubanks said.

A freshman standout last season, sophomore attacker Susie Ropp was not quite able to match the level of production she reached in her freshman year. Suffering a midseason injury that led her to miss two games, Ropp tallied 12 goals, compared to her fantastic 27 from last year.

On the other hand, Ropp’s .800 shot on goal percentage leads the team for all players who scored at least five goals. With another season’s experience under her belt, Ropp should be an important target for the Bears next season.

“I think we grew a lot as far as our leadership goes, and our mental toughness has been a positive as well,” Eubanks said.

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