At the start of the season, the Cal field hockey team believed that finally playing on a true home turf after almost three years would remove the bad taste of the losing streak that ended its 2015 season.
The new Underhill Field was indeed a huge mood booster for Cal, as the team was finally able to attract more student fans and cue its own music. The positive feelings, however, did not necessarily translate into home wins for the Bears, as they were only able to log one win in Berkeley, against conference opponent UC Davis.
“I feel like we are in the middle of a transition as far as going from survival mode without a field to behaving as a proper program,” said Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “It is important to say that the record doesn’t show it, but we actually got a lot better and got a lot of building blocks in place.”
The season got off to a bit of a rocky start when Cal suffered four straight losses before recording a win against Fairfield at the Terrapin Invitational on Sept. 11. The Bears ended the year with a 5-13 record overall and a 1-5 record in the West Division of the America East conference.
In mid-October, during a 2-3 loss against Vermont, junior goalie Kori Griswold, who just last season won AE Defensive Player of the Week three times, got a concussion and was unable to finish the season. This put the Bears in a momentary panic, as freshman backup goalkeeper Danielle Mentink was still recovering from a sprained ankle.
The highlight of the Bears’ season was their 2-0 record against 13-7 Maine. Their first game against the Black Bears was the day after Griswold’s concussion. In a fit of desperation, Onstead decided to put fifth-year senior Lexi Collins in goal who, with no goalie experience, made three saves and greatly contributed to the 3-1 win.
More recently, the Bears again triumphed over Maine to move onto the semifinals of the America East Conference Tournament, in a contentious 3-2 game.
“In the end, it is about how you do in tournament play, so I can take that as a positive,” Onstead said. “We got further in the tournament than we did a year ago. It is only going to get better.”
Another positive note of the season is that many midfielders and forwards became more involved in offensive action. For example, in its first matchup against UC Davis, Cal involved eight players in goal-scoring plays.
Sophomores Melina Moore and Janaye Sakkas lead the team in goal scoring like last season with six goals each, followed closely by redshirt sophomore Katrina Carter. Carter, who redshirted her freshman year, proved herself to be a significant offensive contributor who will impact the team in seasons to come.
Ongoing goalie injuries forced Cal to employ the kicking back tactic more than it expected to this season — at first out of necessity with Griswold’s injury and then during the America East Conference Tournament, as a way to add another field player and overcome a deficit. But in its third of three games against Stanford, this strategy did not prevail, ending the Bears’ season.
Onstead’s final comment summed her team’s season quite well: When it comes to these Bears, she has learned “to expect the unexpected.”