With a disappointing 7-12 season in the books, things continue to look bleak for Cal field hockey. Maxwell Family Field is still under construction, so the Bears will play every game this season on the road. And, as if not having a home game this year weren’t enough, seven of the Bears’ 14 opponents are ranked within the top 25 in the country.
It’s become quite apparent the Bears are not catching any breaks as the new season approaches. However, with an improved offensive attack and arguably the best goalkeeper in the nation, Courtney Hendrickson, Cal may be a sleeper pick in the NorPac West.
The loss of home-field advantage is a critical blow to a team that picked up four of its seven wins last season from the comfort of Maxwell Family Field. With the pressure for success mounting, it remains to be seen if Cal can pick up big wins on the road.
Even at home, the Bears’ offense struggled mightily to put up points last season, consistently failing to deliver in close matches. In 11 of 19 games, the team failed to score more than one goal. Cal, however, has the benefit of its top-three scorers from last year returning to the field, making the line of forwards far more experienced and formidable. Lara Kruggel, Andrea Earle and Sydney Earle will be counted on to build upon the low scores Cal mustered through much of last season. With a seasoned and skillful arsenal pushing the ball into the circle, the Bears look more than capable of putting shots on goal.
Perhaps the only bright spot in Cal’s mediocre 2013 campaign was the defensive effort put forth by goalkeeper Hendrickson. As the cornerstone of coach Shellie Onstead’s defense, Hendrickson rose to the occasion, saving nearly 80 percent of shots on goal and racking up 136 saves on the season. Those monster numbers came in response to a defensive unit that allowed around an average of 15 shots a game. The Bears defensive unit remains questionable entering the regular season, putting even more pressure on the star goaltender to replicate her success last year.
“The pressure to organize and lead the defense just comes with the job of being the goalie, no matter what,” Hendrickson said. “It’s a new year, and I don’t want to dwell on what happened last season.”
All things considered, this version of Cal field hockey looks like a better team than the one we saw a year ago — but the daunting schedule that lies ahead of them may prevent them from re-emerging as a legitimate contender. The Bears cannot afford to play so poorly if they want to make things interesting in the NorPac West. If Cal can tackle its schedule and make it out relatively unscathed, it could very well make a run in the NCAA tournament.
“This is a better team than we had last season, and I think we can make a good run in the conference,” Hendrickson said. “Not having a field is something that is only going to make us stronger as a team.”
The pieces are all in place for the Bears to make something of the 2014 season. But, without a home field and in the face of a tough schedule, Cal may be overwhelmed. Should this team be able to compete against some of the nation’s best without the comfort of home-field advantage, there is no reason to believe that Cal field hockey will not be a real threat when the postseason rears its ugly head.
Contact Christian Legg at [email protected].