As welcome as flowers in May: Cal women’s soccer to return

Photo of Cal Women's Soccer
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When Cal Athletics first announced that it would allow some programs to begin practicing and competing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Cal women’s soccer was not one of them. Instead, football and basketball (men’s and women’s) were the first three programs to be given the green light. Since November of last year, 13 games have been canceled or postponed, with both basketball seasons still in progress.

However, despite the trials and tribulations facing Cal Athletics, the Pac-12 released an official schedule for the spring 2020-21 women’s soccer season Jan. 15. Cal will play 14 games in all, exclusively against Pac-12 opponents — seven fewer games than it played in its 2019-20 campaign.

Cal’s first matchup, which is set for Friday, Feb. 26, will be an away game against Oregon State at Paul Lorenz Field. After their trip to the Beaver State, the Bears will head back to California to prepare for a clash against Colorado on Friday, March 5 — the first of seven home games. To conclude their season, the Bears will duel against cross-Bay rival Stanford in Berkeley on April 16.

In an effort to ensure the health and safety of players and personnel, all competitions will follow the recommendations and guidelines of the Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee. This includes prohibiting fans from watching games at Witter Rugby Field, Cal’s home pitch for the season. All matches in the upcoming month will be livestreamed via calbears.com, with the broadcasting schedule for televised games expected to be announced at a later date.

The last time the Bears played an official game was a little more than 450 days ago, when they were knocked out of the NCAA tournament by Santa Clara in a hard-fought 1-0 overtime loss. The Bears finished with an overall record of 13-5-3 and placed fifth in the Pac-12.

Though the Bears had ambitions to climb to the top of their conference, they nevertheless significantly improved. In 2018-19, the Bears did not make the NCAA tournament after they finished with a losing record of 5-12-2. Since then, the Cal women’s soccer team has been on a meteoric rise, in part thanks to polished veterans stepping it up and in part due to stellar newcomers entering the fray.

“Some highlights from last season have to be beating UCLA and USC, both top teams.” said Cal centerback Emily Smith. “While it’s been so long since last season, it’s hard to carry over the momentum.”

Smith, goalkeeper Angelina Anderson and midfielder Emma Westin will lead the Bears as tri-captains. Anderson, who is the reigning National Freshman of the Year, served as one of Cal’s captains last season as well.

Westin started 20 games out of 21 appearances last year as a junior and tallied up a career-high 11 goals — seven more than she did the season before. Westin will likely fill the voids left by midfielder Luca Deza and forward Abigail Kim, the now-professional former Bears who led the team in total goals scored in separate past seasons.

Emily Smith will finish off her senior season with Cal after being picked in the 2021 NWSL draft Jan. 13 by Racing Louisville FC. As a junior, she helped the Bears to a 0.692 goals against average and earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors three separate times — the most in a season by any one player in conference history.

Anderson is Cal’s wunderkind. The now-sophomore racked up eight different honors as a freshman, including Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year, Top Drawer Soccer National Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All-Pacific First Team. After starting all 21 games last season with a conference-leading 0.851 save percentage and 86 total saves — the second-most in a single season in Cal women’s soccer history — Anderson has all but cemented herself as a fixture in the starting squad for years to come.

Cal also welcomes a batch of 10 talented freshmen players from the 2020 recruiting class, including five defenders, four forwards and just one midfielder. They will be eager to get their feet wet, as many of them signed national letters of intent during the early signing period in November 2019.

“We have our new set of freshmen and a transfer, and even (after) seeing them for just a little bit, I know they’re going to make such an impact on the team.” Smith said. “They bring this kind of youthful energy and mentality of working hard.”

Ryan Chien covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].