Cal women’s soccer kicks off season just outside top-25 rankings

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Anissa Nishioka/File

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While UC Berkeley students have been soaking up the last days of summer, embarking on final camping trips and beach visits, the Cal women’s soccer team has been quietly on its grind. With a little more than two weeks of training camp under their belts, the Bears will jump right into the season this Friday when they host Utah Valley for their season opener at Edwards Stadium in Berkeley.

Despite the hasty start to the season, Cal has every reason to head into both this game and the rest of its regular season matchups with confidence, given its success last year and throughout the tenure of head coach Neil McGuire.

A 13-6-1 finish last season has put the Bears right on the edge of the preseason top 25, receiving the most votes of any unranked team and positioning themselves as de facto No. 26 in the nation in the United Soccer Coaches poll.

That ranking not only reflects the team’s recent winning ways, but also the respect that Cal women’s soccer commands as a program. The Bears have one of the longest consecutive tournament appearance streaks in the NCAA, currently at 14 years. Now in his 12th year at the helm, McGuire possesses the program’s most wins with 137.

McGuire’s veteran insights should prove particularly valuable this year, as the Bears lost six seniors to graduation last season and welcomed 11 new freshmen in the offseason. Those freshmen will seek to follow the example of returning offensive weapons senior Miranda Nild and junior Abi Kim, as well as sophomore defensive standout Emily Smith.

Nild and Kim both return with an offseason of national-level experience in the books; Nild helped the Thai women’s national team secure a spot in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and Kim is currently competing with the U.S. under-20 women’s national team at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

On the other side of the ball, Smith elevated her game last year, starting in all 20 games and making third team All-Pac-12 in her rookie season. All three women are poised to be leaders on this team throughout this year.

Heading into Friday’s game against the Wolverines, it is unlikely that either team has forgotten about its respective disappointing tournament losses in round one of the NCAA playoffs last year. The Bears put up a solid fight in a nail-biter against Santa Clara, but they were ultimately bested by the Broncos, 2-1, surrendering two goals for the only time all season.

On the flip side, Utah Valley’s matchup against eventual tournament champion Stanford featured far less suspense, ending in a staggering 9-1 defeat. There is no doubt that both teams will take the field Friday with a bitter taste in their mouths and something to prove.

The Bears’ tough schedule will test them early and often –– after this weekend’s opener, Cal visits Santa Clara on Monday with retribution on its mind, before returning home to host Harvard next Friday, Aug. 24.

Adriana Ghiozzi covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].