Cal field hockey set to begin season with new home field

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There is no place like home for the Cal field hockey team, which will finally get to play its first games in Berkeley in three years this season. After several protests and complaints that overshadowed much of the past two seasons, the team will finally be able to focus on improving skills and formations without the pressure of having to travel every game.

“I think it is a huge psychological advantage to transition from always traveling and trying to manage pretending all these other fields were home fields to actually having a home field,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “I can already see it.”

Last season, the team got off to a strong start as it began its first six games with a record of 4-2. The Bears faced off against unfamiliar competition, including Duke, Indiana and Brown. The team played its home games alternating between UC Davis and Stanford because of its lack of a home field. The constant travel eventually wore the team out, as it ended the season with a 9-10 record.

This year, the team will have to buckle down for its first few games in order to redeem itself from the four-game losing streak that it disappointingly ended on last season.

On Cal’s schedule this season, the team can look forward to two matchups with both UC Davis and Stanford, both of whom it played twice last year. The team split the season series against Stanford and had a similar 1-1 record against the Aggies.

In order to clinch important wins, Cal will need big plays from underclassmen, including sophomore forward Melina Moore, 2015’s America East Rookie of the Year. Moore and sophomore Janaye Sakkas, two of the top point scorers from last season, recorded 39 points for the Bears collectively. Toward the end of the season, younger players started to contribute more on the field, especially on offense.

Returning this year as the Cal goalkeeper is junior Kori Griswold. Last season, Griswold had a save percentage of 70.6 and played almost every minute of the season. She logged more than 1,300 minutes in the goal. Another key returning player is senior Sydney Earle who recorded a total of 12 points for the Bears last season, making her one of the team’s top scorers.

The Bears will be returning a hefty majority of their roster this year, so they will have had more time to practice together in the off-season and become experts with each other’s playing style.

“We have some of those new players that we are going to rely on in the middle of the field, and there is no reason not to expect a performance like the first three-quarters of last season, which was remarkable,” Onstead said. “I have had to remind the team that we were awesome until we fell apart, especially for being full-time on the road.”

Earlier this summer, the team took a trip to South Africa — an international trip that the NCAA allows once every four years. The players not only partook in cultural events such as touring an apartheid-era township but they also played four international games against the Western Province Country Districts, Western Province Cricket Club, Stellenbosch University and University of Johannesburg. The bonding experience created by foreign travel should influence their chemistry on the field.

“This was a well-timed reminder of how hockey is a world game and how you can have influence through sport,” Onstead said. “It was a really great cultural and hockey experience.”

Starting with its first match against Northeastern on Sunday, the offense will have to step up and pull some of the weight the defense carried last year in order to dominate. The most important thing about going into the start of the season is mentality — the team needs to remember how good it can be instead of dwelling on the sad end to last season.

Lucy Schaefer covers field hockey. Contact her at [email protected].