Cal women’s soccer opens 2014 season at home

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The last time that the Cal women’s soccer team took on the No. 10 Broncos, it marked the end of the Bears’ brief 2013 postseason run.

Now, as blue practice jerseys dot Goldman Field in preparation for Cal’s first two games of the season, endings are the last thing on this team’s mind. With 12 new faces highlighting their young roster, the Bears will begin their schedule with a pair of back-to-back Bay Area matchups this weekend — including a much-anticipated rematch against perennial nonconference rival Santa Clara.

“It’s always a battle,” said midfielder Kory Lamet regarding her team’s rivalry with the Broncos. “Our last game of last season, we were knocked out by them, so obviously there’s some bitterness towards that. But it’s always a fun match. We both play very similarly — we’re both very good.”

But before Cal can seek redemption against its top-ranked opponent, the squad will need to get past USF head coach Jim Millinder’s fleet Friday afternoon. The team’s matchup against the Dons will take place at Goldman Field and mark the Bears’ inaugural home game of the year.

While USF is unranked, notching a win against the Dons won’t necessarily prove an easy task. USF is picked to finish sixth in the WCC but features an experienced lineup battle-tested in one of the toughest women’s soccer conferences in the country. Of the team’s 11 starters last season, 10 return this year, including junior goalkeeper Madalyn Schiffel. A USA U-20 National Team participant, Schiffel recorded six shutouts and allowed just one goal in 10 other matches last season.

“Our first concern obviously is our match on Friday against San Francisco,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “Coach Millinder is an outstanding coach, and his team will be very ready.”

Meanwhile, Cal’s lineup remains relatively untested. After 10 seniors graduated from last year’s squad, half of the Bears’ projected starters consist of freshmen. The backfield will be particularly loaded with newcomers, with nearly all four starters predicted to make their debut Friday.

Defender Kelsie Dickerson, a fifth-year senior, could feasibly be the only familiar face in the backfield with freshmen Haley Lukas, Indigo Gibson and Annia Mejia rounding out the Bears’ starting defenders. Emily Boyd, another highly touted recruit, will likely be called upon to fill the hole left by former senior Emily Kruger, who tallied a career-high 79 saves and 2.3 shutouts in her final year with the Bears.

But while the experience of the last year’s seniors will be missed, Cal’s recruiting class has been touted as one of the strongest in the country. Gibson ranks as the No. 12 recruit in the country, and Boyd has been recognized as one of the top-50 incoming goalkeepers. Meanwhile, returning players such as forward Ifeoma Onumonu — named the 2012 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year — are featured in the Bears’ list of returning talent.

“We lost a lot of players last year who had played a lot of minutes over the course of their careers, so we’re excited to see the way that our players returned,” McGuire said. “They’re fit, they’re motivated, and they’re playing good soccer.”

Cal’s young lineup could also give it an advantage heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Broncos. Because the two Bay Area teams usually play each other several times per year, the two are familiar with one another’s tendencies. With a batch of new names on the Bears’ starting roster, the squad will pose an unknown challenge to its opponents while Santa Clara’s lineup should provide a familiar threat to Cal’s coaching staff.

“We want to come out strong and show everyone that we’re not something to mess with,” Gibson said.

Dani Jo Coony is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].