Angelina Anderson’s ascent to Cal’s cream of the crop

Photo of Angelina Anderson
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
Lisi Ludwig / Senior Staff

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With two minutes left on the clock, it’s a rare one-on-one showdown on the pitch — a penalty kick to decide Cal’s biggest game of the year. The blue and gold are up 1-0 against Stanford, and all eyes are on their sophomore goalkeeper, Angelina Anderson. 

After collecting a flawless eight saves, she’d all but proved her mettle as a virtually impassable defender. But to Anderson, it’s not the past that counts. It’s about the future goal.

“Visualization is a huge part of my pregame ritual,” Anderson said. “I’ll close my eyes and see myself making the save. I have a whole highlight reel going on in my head. I do that before the game, right before my warmup, and then once I have the visualization done, I’m ready to go.”

As Stanford’s Civana Kuhlmann creeps up to the ball, Anderson knows she only has a few options to block the shot: dive to the left, shift right or stay in place. So she commits to one, leaping to the left side with fully outstretched arms — a game-saving move that helps lift the Bears over the Cardinal for the first time in nearly eight years. 

Photo of Angelina Anderson

Lisi Ludwig / Senior Staff

Long before the glitz and glamour of Cal’s Division I soccer program, Anderson grew up no differently than many of her contemporaries. Born and raised in Danville, California — a quaint Bay Area town 22 miles east of Berkeley — she was an active kid with an insatiable curiosity. 

“Angelina’s always been a reader and writer,” said her mother Lisa Anderson. “She’s a heavy journaler and likes music. She also loved to hike and be in nature. On any given day, you could find her on a trail outside.”

Surrounded by former athletes, Anderson gravitated toward sports at an early age. Her father, Sean Anderson, was a linebacker at the University of Iowa. Her mother ran track and field at San Francisco State University.

“I definitely grew up in an athletic environment,” Anderson said. “My family prioritizes health, fitness and sports. My mom is more so about the holistic health and wellness side of being an athlete; my dad is really intense about the sports aspect. They’re both still in incredible shape, still working out all the time, and it’s really inspiring. I think that’s a goal of mine for how to live once I’m older too.”

Already 5’5” by age 10, Anderson took a particular interest in basketball and soccer, where her height proved particularly advantageous. She blocked shots with ease as a pass-first point forward and anchored backlines as a centre back turned goalkeeper. 

With a selfless style of play that spoke for itself, teammates quickly followed her lead. Soon thereafter, coaches began to take notice of Anderson’s distinctive presence on both the court and pitch. 

“The basketball and soccer crossover really worked for her,” Anderson’s father said. “Going for balls up in the air was like grabbing a rebound. The footwork was the same as doing a layup. A lot of her basic techniques were already developed at a young age.”

Come ninth grade, Anderson chose to double down on soccer. With Carondelet High School and Mustang Soccer Club Elite Clubs National League, or ECNL, she maximized her athletic ability by developing her own set routine. At 5 a.m., she’d wake up and go straight to the gym; at 3 p.m., she’d practice with the rest of the team for at least four hours a day, every day of the week. 

“People probably don’t know how much she actually did,” said Mustang Soccer ECNL director Mike Kelley. “She missed a lot and sacrificed to get to where she’s at. She kept improving, was always super prepared and took fitness seriously. You could see it in her eyes that she was hungry to get better.”

As Anderson sharpened her skills as a goalkeeper, she had a goal in mind: make it to at least one camp held by the U.S. Youth Soccer National Team. Such an invitation is essentially the “golden ticket” of soccer. To receive one is especially rare, reserved only for the most skilled soccer players in the nation for their respective age group. 

On Dec. 9, 2016, her work ethic paid off in due course through email: 

“Congratulations! You have been selected to the roster for the upcoming U.S. Soccer Striker and Goalkeeper training camp in Carson, California. Including travel days this trip will take place from Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 – Saturday, December 17th, 2016.”

But even one “golden ticket” was no guarantee that Anderson was welcome to stay. Unbeknownst to many players, to truly rise to the top is to receive multiple camp invites by captivating the attention of scouts and coaching staff. So Anderson’s goal evolved: from working her way toward one to the first of many to come. 

Photo of Angelina Anderson

Lisi Ludwig / Senior Staff

A goalkeeper’s job is far more than simply blocking shots. It requires anticipating the opposition, vocalizing commands to coordinate the team’s defense accordingly and stopping the offensive charge before it ever begins. It also requires grit. Although the pressure of being the “last man standing” can be overwhelming, a goalie has to stay composed for the sake of their team’s collective morale.

In other words, to be a great goalkeeper is to be a great leader. And for Anderson, filling in such a role is as natural as kicking a soccer ball itself. 

With Carondelet High School, she led her team to back-to-back East Bay Athletic League Championships; with Mustang ECNL, she rallied her team to two ECNL National Playoffs Final Four appearances; and with the U-17 Women’s National Team, she competed at the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup as the squad’s starting captain.

“To become a high-level athlete, you have to have confidence in yourself and gain the respect of your teammates. She definitely has both,” Kelley said. “She’s very clear, concise and quick and was never one to blame other people. Her teammates kind of gravitated toward her because they knew that she cared. I saw her in many situations where no one else wanted to step up and say something, but she’d be the first to do it.”

But Anderson’s aptitude for leadership hasn’t come without its challenges. When she entered the U.S. National Team’s camp at 16 years old, she felt like an outsider. 

“Unless you’ve been on the national team since you were around 13 years old, you’re kind of a late joiner. There’s a kind of core group of veterans who are used to girls cycling in and out,” Anderson said. “So when I first entered, it was really nerve-racking and hard to connect and make friends.”

To earn her teammates’ trust, Anderson set a short-term goal for herself: prove that she belonged through her play. After all, it was just soccer — a sport she had poured her heart into for as long as she could remember. 

Such a mindset allowed Anderson to embrace the situation with confidence. Taking each day game-by-game, practice-by-practice, she swiftly gained the respect of not only her teammates but coaches as well. Before she knew it, the U.S. National Team started flooding her inbox — one invite to a training camp in Florida led to another in China, which led to several more in Mexico, Argentina and Nicaragua, to name just a few.

By the time Anderson was a sophomore in high school, committing herself to play collegiate soccer was all but set in stone. At just 16 years old, she received offers from colleges such as Cal, Stanford and Notre Dame. 

During the decision-making process, Anderson was initially turned off by the idea of settling in at UC Berkeley. As big of a presence as Cal is in Danville, she — like many other antsy teenagers — was eager to move far away from home. 

“I was actually super opposed to going to Cal because it was just so ingrained and so close to me. There’s a lot of alumni who live in Danville, and I see Cal license plates, Cal stickers, Cal flags all the time,” Anderson said. “I had grown up thinking, ‘No. I’m getting out of here, I’m going to do something completely different.’ ”

But once she assessed her options and weighed the pros and cons, she gained some more clarity. 

“Eventually, I came to my senses. The coaches that I currently play under coached at Mustang Soccer Club. When I was little, I would go to Cal soccer camps overnight all the time,” Anderson said. “Cal has always had a storied goalkeeper program, and I knew that my position was going to be cultivated. As a goalkeeper, I was going to learn and grow a lot, which ultimately helped me make my decision.”

So she decided to stick around in the Bay Area and officially signed with the blue and gold Nov. 14, 2018. Now, at around a halfway point into her collegiate career with Cal, Anderson has developed quite the resume. 

By the end of her freshman year, she could boast nine shutouts with the team, was the first player in conference history to be named Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in the same season and recorded a save percentage of 0.851 on 86 total saves — the second-most in a single season in the program’s 40-year history.

Anderson’s sophomore season was a similar story. In 14 games, she ended with a spectacular 10-save performance against Arizona State, collected a fourth career Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week Award and landed a spot on the All-Pac-12 second team. 

But even with such a long list of accolades, Anderson is sure not to take anything for granted. As proud as she is of her accomplishments, her focus is always on what’s next — what she can try differently for the next game; what new skill she can pick up through the next practice; and what she can do to advance her career to the next level. 

It’s a type of short-term goal setting that drives her motor and has helped her get to where she is today.

“Having those tiny milestones has helped me a lot in the grand scheme of things,” Anderson said. “For everyday things, if my mind is cluttered, I have to write it down in a checklist. For bigger goals, it’s always in the back of my mind, no matter what I’m doing. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. If I’m out trying to have fun or it’s my day off, it’s always back there nagging at me, which is good in the end since it keeps me driven.”

Anderson’s forward-thinking mentality also applies to the rest of the team. Along with a sixth sense in anticipating the trajectory of opposing shots, an ability to lead with confidence is what makes her such a valued goalkeeper on the pitch. By approaching the opposing offense with an equally deliberate, methodical approach for her defense to follow, she can envision team success far before the game even starts. 

Because ultimately, it’s not the past that counts to Anderson. It’s about the future goal.

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