Cal field hockey concludes a disappointing campaign

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The 2013 season began with so much promise for the Cal field hockey team. All of the pieces needed for a championship in the fiercely competitive NorPac Conference had fallen into place: the return of All-American Andrea Earle to lead the offense, NorPac’s top goalie in Courtney Hendrickson to captain the defense and the guidance of a hall of fame coach in Shellie Onstead.

Despite these apparent strengths, the Bears finished the season in last place in the NorPac West Division and for the second straight year found themselves in the consolation game. The Cal (7-12, 2-4 NorPac) field hockey program has never had a record this bad under Onstead.

“This is a really good program,” Onstead said. “For us to perform this poorly is really strange.”

The season opened with wins in three of the Bears’ first four games. Earle made her return to competitive play, scoring roughly half of the team’s points. The defense held strong, allowing only three goals through four games. Onstead’s squad looked to be establishing its dominance early, eyeing perennial powerhouse Stanford and the top position in the NorPac West Division.

As Cal prepared to tackle Northwestern — its second ranked opponent of the season — in its fifth game of the year, things began to fall apart, fast. Earle succumbed to one in a string of injuries that have shortened her college career. Several key Bears followed suit and fell out of the equation for much of the season, bringing a proud Cal program to its knees as the cellar dwellers of the conference.

In addition to Earle, Lara Kruggel, Shannon Elmitt, Taylor Lee, Clara Goni, Nicole Wallstedt and Nicole Henriksson made up the list of Cal players who missed game time throughout the season.

“Honestly, going into the NorPac Tournament was the first time since September that we have been fully healthy,” Onstead said.

The impact of these injuries was immense. It began with a crucial loss to ranked Northwestern, and continued as the Bears were unable to earn a win against any of the ranked teams they faced. The poor form carried into matches they should have won as they dropped games against perceived lightweights Yale and Pacific. At the team’s lowest point, the it dropped five games in a row and eight of its last 10 to end the season, landing in the NorPac consolation game.

“It’s only the second time we’ve been in the consolation game, so it’s a little disappointing.” Onstead said.

Going into the NorPac Tournament, Cal fans were hopeful the team could rally to an NCAA berth. After winning two of their last four and barely losing to rival Stanford in overtime, the players were optimistic they could defeat Liberty, a team they had played earlier in the season. But Cal played disappointingly, getting dominated by the Flames and ending its season. The team was, however, able to finish off the season with a 5-1 stomping of the Radford Highlanders and sent off its three graduating seniors — Shannon Elmitt, Jordan O’Reilly, Allie Swartz — with a win.

“It was great to step up and get the win for our seniors,” Hendrickson said. “We haven’t seen the results that we have wanted on the scoreboard this season, but we have gotten much stronger.”

With a rough season behind it, all the Cal field hockey program can do is look to the future and prepare for next season. With all but three members of the active roster returning, the Bears will look to return to the form they have come to expect of a team under the leadership of Onstead.

“With (Onstead), there really is no offseason,” Hendrickson said. “We’ll be starting up again soon.”

Christian Legg covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected].