After ending its 2013 season with a steady slide, the Cal women’s soccer team will be looking for some sense of redemption as this year’s campaign kicks off. The Bears, after beginning last season with an unbeaten 9-0-4 record, embarked on a six-game winless streak. Cal would eventually fall in the first round of the NCAA tournament to then-No. 9 Santa Clara.
“I’m proud of how the season went overall,” said then-senior captain and goalkeeper Emily Kruger. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t do better in the end, but I’m proud of the good moments, and hopefully that’s what people will remember.”
That lingering disappointment will remain the theme of this season as the Bears look to determine what propelled them to their early unbeaten streak and what led to their gradual downfall. After hitting their best ranking at No. 8, a sequence of losses to lesser teams such as Oregon State and Washington State brought Cal outside of the top-20 rankings.
The Bears’ 2014 schedule includes many of the same opponents as last year, including five games against teams ranked in the top 20. Cal will also play Santa Clara twice this year, first on Sunday and again in the middle of September, right before the start of Pac-12 play. The Bears, who are currently unranked, will be considered the underdogs through most of these contests, especially when the throes of conference season begin.
“When the season started out, we had a lot of goals in mind,” said forward Grace Leer after last season. “We wanted to win Pac-12 and get to the tournament, which we did. We expected to go further in the tournament, which didn’t happen, unfortunately.”
If Cal hopes for better seeding in next year’s tournament, its games against conference powerhouses such as reigning NCAA champion, UCLA, and Bay Area rival, No. 6 Stanford, will be critical.
One of the biggest questions that looms over the team is how Cal will recover from the loss of the production and leadership of seniors such as forward Rachel Mercik — who scored the third-most goals on the team in 2013 — and Kruger. Kruger is the program’s all-time leader in career saves with 279.
A good deal of the burden lies on the shoulders of the 12 freshmen who will be joining the team. The recruiting class, named as the No. 5 class by TopDrawerSoccer.com, has five national team members, along with 10 five- and four-star recruits.
“We are very excited about our 2014 recruiting class,” said head coach Neil McGuire to Cal Athletics. “We have been fortunate to attract many highly talented players to join us, and it is a class that will help us continue Cal’s strong soccer tradition.”
With the addition of so many new players, it is difficult to gauge how different the 2014 team might look. The Bears’ success will depend partly on how well the freshmen adapt to McGuire’s system, along with playing in a collegiate environment.
Michelle Lee is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].