Power Rankings: Cal field hockey seeks return to national spotlight

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Under the leadership of California Hall of Fame coach Shellie Onstead, the Cal field hockey team has upheld a tradition of excellence, regularly making appearances in the NCAA tournament and consistently being ranked among the nation’s top programs. Now, for the second consecutive season, the Bears sit as cellar-dwellers of the NorPac West division, searching for answers.

To say the 2013-14 campaign was a letdown for Onstead and the Bears would be an immense understatement. Despite impressive play from the goalkeeper Courtney Hendrickson and the return of offensive juggernaut Andrea Earle from injury, Cal was unable to salvage a lost season. The Bears dropped eight of their final 10 games, finishing a dismal 7-12 and reaching the NorPac Tournament’s consolation game by the skin of their teeth.

The Bears’ poor performance can be partially attributed to the fact that seven of their starters missed playing time throughout the season due to injury, leaving an inexperienced and often short-handed unit to pick up the slack. Even when the Bears finally did look healthy, they simply failed to compete at a high level. Cal’s lackluster defensive effort forced Hendrickson to face a firing squad — as many as 40 shots on goal — every game while the offense failed to produce, scoring one or fewer goals in 10 games. In short, not much went right for the Bears this season.

“We were a very young and talented team last year; unfortunately that wasn’t reflected in our record,” Hendrickson said. “We really need to start focusing on executing simple skills flawlessly, especially in close games. In the end, the ability to execute those skills is what separates winning teams from losing teams.”

There were, however, moments of promise in a sea of mediocrity that may give fans hope for next year. Lara Kruggel and Sydney Earle emerged as suitable offensive weapons, taking pressure off of Andrea Earle and giving the Bears a more balanced and powerful offensive attack. Meanwhile on defense — the team’s biggest question mark heading into next season — Hendrickson emerged as a blockade in the goal, posting 136 total saves with a save percentage of .791, some of the best marks in the country.

Furthermore, Cal lost only three graduating seniors this season, leaving behind a roster made up almost entirely of returning players. This, combined with Onstead’s tenacity, could spell improvement for a team that has fallen well short of expectations the last two years.

“The last few months of training have been interesting since we don’t have a field to practice on, so we don’t really know what to expect in terms of the field,” Hendrickson said. “But this team does a great job of overcoming adversity, and we are still training as hard as possible. With Onstead, there really isn’t an offseason.”

Should Cal be able to fine-tune simple skills and win close games, it may climb back into relevance in the world of college field hockey. The odds of the Bears making a run in the NCAA tournament in the upcoming season remain incredibly slim, but this is a team on the rise. Look for them to return as contenders in the NorPac West.

Contact Christian Legg at [email protected].