Despite the promise of a No. 5 recruiting class, the success of Cal women’s soccer’s 2014 season was dictated by the team’s veterans, who guided the gritty team to many hard-fought regular-season victories and to a postseason berth.
With the departure of many of the important seniors from last year’s team, such as Grace Leer and Taylor Comeau, the team will look to a burgeoning star, rising-junior forward Arielle Ship, to fill the void left by the departure of these upperclassmen.
Ship ranked sixth on the team last fall in three statistical categories with 11 points, four goals and three assists. Perhaps just as importantly, she remained healthy throughout the season and played in 21 games. She showed resilience last season, as she proved that an injury-plagued freshman season — in which she played 206 minutes in only nine appearances — was behind her.
“There are a lot of players playing well, but the person that I don’t think Cal has seen the best of yet is … Arielle Ship,” said head coach Neil McGuire. “Ari Ship, a U17 National Team player, came in as a freshman, (suffered injuries) and wasn’t able to compete to her best potential.”
The forward showed up big in big moments last year. She tied Comeau for the team lead with three game-winning goals. The most important of these came in the last game Cal won in 2014 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against San Diego State. Her goal in the second half of overtime pushed the Bears to the second round. They weren’t able to replicate their performance in the next round against the tougher competition and came up short against No. 2-seeded Florida.
Ship showed tremendous growth on the team in its spring matches and demonstrated an absolute knack for scoring, with strong performances against top teams, such as Stanford and Santa Clara, which may be indicative of her bigger role for the upcoming season.
“She got her personal best in her fitness test,” McGuire said. “She’s probably increased her overall fitness by 15 percent because (her) number was significantly bigger than what she’s ever done. That’s no small measure. The number that she achieved is one of the highest numbers that (the) Cal program has seen, so she’s clearly very motivated to have a successful junior season.”
Alongside Ship, talented rising sophomores Guro Bergsvand, a midfielder, and Indigo Gibson, a defender, are among the promising young players on the team who are seeking expanded roles in their second seasons. With nine sophomores and three freshmen on next season’s roster, the team’s youth will have to step up to complement Ship. She will be joined by the rest of last year’s returning cast of leaders: senior forwards Celeste Boureille and Samantha Witteman, and junior midfielder Kelly Fitzgerald. They will try to help Ship lead the Bears past the second round of the NCAA Tournament and emerge in the national consciousness as one of the top-flight programs at their sport.
Shiktij Dave is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].