Bright horizons: Cal women’s soccer preseason storylines

Photo of Cal women's soccer huddle
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The Cal women’s soccer team finished its spring season 5-7-1 — the second-worst record in the Pac-12. Heading into the fall, the Bears are projected to rank sixth in their conference — one spot below the Pac-12 coaches’ previous projection of fifth place in a 2020 poll.

One short offseason and 14 incoming recruits later, the newly revamped team should be more confident than ever. Because moving forward, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Here are some of the top storylines heading into the Cal women’s soccer program’s 41st season.

Seasoned, veteran returners

Due to the NCAA’s extension of eligibility for student-athletes impacted by COVID-19, the Bears’ breadth of experience runs deeper than years past. With 10 starters returning, as well as 16 upperclassmen, the Cal’s core have spent formative years together on the pitch. Consequently, the team learning curve next season can best be described as one, gentle slope.

Seasoned veterans anchoring the field include fifth-year senior defender Emily Smith and attacking midfielder and senior Emma Westin. In January 2021, Smith was drafted by Racing Louisville FC as the 31st overall pick in the National Women’s Soccer League draft after serving as a co-captain for Cal in 2019. Westin, originally from Sweden and entering her fifth season with the Bears, led the team in assists and points to earn a spot on last year’s All-Pac-12 Third Team.

Among Cal’s most decorated athletes is junior goalkeeper Angelina Anderson. As a sophomore, Anderson tallied a 0.800 save percentage while securing a place on the All-Pac-12 Second Team. As a freshman, she etched herself in the record books after being named the first Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in a single season. With an ever growing resume of accolades under her belt, the 6’0” Bay Area local will likely continue to lead by example.

Promising, young talents

With a highly touted recruiting class, Cal’s coaching staff has reason to stay optimistic. According to Top Drawer Soccer, the 14 incoming Bears rank as the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.

Notable players include forwards Arianna Manrique and Karlie Lema, as well as defenders Ayooluwa Oke and Courtney Boone. Manrique and Oke, both from Georgia, are previous teammates from the Tophat Soccer Club in Atlanta. Boone and Lema are California locals from West Covina and Morgan Hill, respectively. All four rank within the top 50 players of their class.

Also in the mix is forward Marleen Rohde, who hails from Berlin. Having played more than 600 minutes internationally, Rohde was a part of one of Germany’s most competitive women’s football teams: 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam. As a naturally gifted scorer, she’ll likely be an instant focal point for Cal’s attack-focused formations.

With six forwards, five defenders and three midfielders in total, Cal’s newest faces could make up an evenly balanced team on their own. Paired with upperclassmen mentors, the eager bunch will have a lot to look forward to for fall 2021.

Familiar turf

One of the many wrenches thrown at Cal last season was a change in scenery. Due to COVID-19 protocols, its “home” turf lacked the vibrance and enthusiasm the team had been normally accustomed to. Nestled behind Memorial Stadium with little to no fans allowed inside, Witter Rugby Field felt more like a practice facility than a rallying arena.

But the Bears won’t need to worry any longer.

Edwards Stadium is open for business once again, this time welcoming fans within the field’s plentiful bleachers. Last season at Witter Rugby Field, the team went 1-5-1. In 2019, which was the last time the team played in Edwards Stadium, it went 8-3-0. Needless to say, it seems as though the original venue for games is perhaps the blue and gold’s greatest “good luck” charm.

Cal will also face a flurry of nonconference matchups, which were few and far between last spring. In recent years, games against non Pac-12 teams have largely swung in favor of the Bears. Since many of those nonconference matchups will be held at the beginning of the season, the first being against UCSD on Aug. 19, Cal has the chance to earn several victories right out of the floodgates.

Ryan Chien is the deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].