Much like a college student living at home in August, the Cal men’s soccer team is raring to go.
Last year Cal was forced to forego a normal preseason due to local COVID-19 health guidelines. But this season, the Bears were singing a different tune: They enjoyed a full month of the player-led summer training regimen, which they call “captain’s practice.” Most members of the squad have met for these practices every Monday, Wednesday and Friday since the middle of July, in hopes of improving their fitness before normal training sessions resumed.
This past Tuesday, the Bears switched gears and began formal training sessions.
After their afternoon training session Tuesday, senior centerback Ian Lonergan expressed his satisfaction with the team’s progress over the summer and its preparedness for the season.
“We really, really preached having all of the guys up here during captain’s practice and getting after it and making sure the team gets touches in and doesn’t come in too rusty,” Lonergan said. “I think this team is super psyched, and that’s something I haven’t really seen in the past few years. (On the) first day of training, people were just so ready to get after it. The competition out here today was flying. I think it’s going to be a really good season.”
Head coach Kevin Grimes, who will begin his 22nd season in charge as the Bears take on Sacramento State, has good reason to hope for a smoother start to this season than last.
Cal went 0-3 through its first three games of the 2021 season and seemed destined for a historically poor season before winning four of its last seven games. But this year, with a full summer of team training under its belt, Cal has every reason to be hopeful.
On top of a full offseason of preparation, the Bears will welcome fans back to the stands and return to Edwards Stadium, their home field, after a season at Witter Rugby Field.
On Monday, the squad took preseason pictures in full kits and was allowed access to the locker room. Lonergan expressed his excitement to see the whole team together in one place, as some players did not attend captain’s practice.
“It’s always a fun day because we get all of our gear,” said Lonergan. “Pretty much the whole team at the end of captain’s practice was up here so there were just a few guys missing. It was fun to see those familiar faces that may have been injured over the summer.”
The Bears also welcomed five new faces to the team this offseason: defenders Kevin Carmichael and Santiago Hopkins, forward Shoei Honda, midfielder Jake Himelstein and goalkeeper Oscar Logevall.
Carmichael and Hopkins signed National Letters of Intent in November 2020, while Honda signed in June of this year. Logevall, the 6’2” goalkeeper from Los Angeles, joined the team as a walk-on this summer. Himelstein, who enjoyed a brief stint with Orlando City Soccer Club’s Development Academy and signed for San Francisco Glens in August of last year, also joined the team this summer.
“It’s huge that we get these guys integrated into the team right away and make them feel at home,” said Lonergan. “It’s not like a freshman on this team can’t play. They get their opportunities. These guys have come in here and shown their best, especially in captain’s practice. They were up here and showing out. They’re fitting into the team perfectly.”
Cal’s regular season opener is scheduled for Thursday, August 26 in Moraga against Saint Mary’s. The Bears will play three exhibition games before then: tomorrow against Sacramento State, this Sunday at San Jose State, and next Friday against San Francisco.
Grimes’ squad will have a tough road to the NCAA tournament in Cary, North Carolina. But for now the Bears simply look forward to seeing familiar faces back in the stands at Edwards Stadium tomorrow after what has been a tumultuous year.
“I think that’s a huge thing for all of us is having our families be able to watch us in person again. That’s a huge motivation factor,” said Lonergan. “It’s going to be a pretty good showing. We’ll have a lot of families out here that really want to see the guys finally play again.”
William Cooke covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].