The Cal women’s soccer team entered Friday night’s season opener with a roster full of freshmen and hopes of a fresh start.
The 3-1 victory over UC Irvine provided the team with just that.
The Bears opened the season with a 3-1 win over the Anteaters. The Friday night matchup in Anteater Stadium gave the No. 20 (NSCAA Coaches Poll) Bears their ninth overall win over the Anteaters and their 25th season opener victory since the induction of the program in 1982.
The Bears ended last season in a heartbreaker with San Diego State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Though the game was hard fought, Cal was disappointed with the loss after building an impressive 16-6 record through the season. Friday’s victory saw the Bears put last season’s frustration behind them as they opened a new chapter of Cal soccer on a positive note.
The win was a welcoming introduction to the 10 freshmen joining the Bears this season. Though freshmen constitute half of the Cal roster, the Bears’ victory rested primarily on the shoulders of team veterans.
Senior Rachel Mercik broke the game open in the 17th minute with a long-distance laser into the back of the net. After the UC Irvine defense fumbled control of the ball, Mercik gathered it and fired a 20-yard rocket that sailed past Anteater goalkeeper Jenn Randazzo’s reach.
The score held steady at 1-0 into the second half until senior Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick capitalized on yet another loose ball in the 51st minute. Like Mercik, Fitzpatrick took advantage of a disorganized defense with a long-distance shot. Her 18-yard attempt grazed a defender before deflecting off Randazzo’s outstretched fingertips and into the back of the net.
The 2012 Freshman of the Year Ifeoma Onumonu started the season true to form, scoring what will almost surely be the first of many goals as a sophomore. After receiving a long ball from defender Emi Lawson, the speedy Onumonu bested the Anteater defense to create a breakaway and flicked the ball over a charging Randazzo in the 68th minute.
Despite the 3-0 lead, the Anteaters refused to go down without a fight. Anteater freshman Sammie James kicked off her collegiate career with a goal in the 81st minute, a mere 30 seconds after taking the field for the first time. The midfielder was able to collect a loose ball after a misdirected cross resulted in a scramble in the box. She gathered the errant ball and slotted it just inside the left post to give her squad its only goal of the game.
The 3-1 win allowed the Bears not only to start the season fresh but also to establish a tone for the future of the Cal women’s soccer program.
With freshmen as a major portion of the Cal roster, the Bears are looking to foster their new talent and establish an even stronger foundation for the future.
Taylor Brink covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].