Cal Field Hockey beats Stanford in the season opener
Men's Soccer and Volleyball also opened their season this past weekend. Women's Soccer stayed unbeaten.
After Cal Women’s Soccer had a successful, undefeated season-opening weekend, three more Cal programs will start their seasons this past weekend as Cal Athletics ramp up to the typical full busy fall weekend of action, with Cal Men’s Water Polo and, of course, Cal Football starting next weekend.
This post will both recap the action from this past weekend and also serve as a bit of a preview for what to expect from these programs this fall semester. Earning the top billing are the Golden Bears of Cal Field Hockey, who managed to snap a 7-game streak against their Bay Area rival Stanford.
Cal Field Hockey (1-1)
Cal 1, No.25 Stanford 0
Graduate student Maddie Cleats scored the lone goal in the 3rd quarter as the Golden Bears earned their first win over a ranked team since 2017. Megan Connors was awarded the assist.
Of course, this is not quite the same Stanford squad as the past decade. Stanford is clearly overrated at No.25 after barely avoiding the axe by their University in a last-minute reversal that saved the program. This Cardinal squad featured a new young head coach and somehow no goalkeeper.
Cal Field Hockey has been a great supporter of their rival’s bid to be reinstated, but as recently as March, when the two teams last met, Stanford was still on the chopping block. From the official recap presser.
"We circled up with Stanford after the match because the last time we were here, we met with them and basically had to mark the event that they were done, and we were trying to support them in that moment," said the Donna Fong Director of Field Hockey Shellie Onstead. "We got together and told them, 'Good job, you're back. You're battling with 13 players and no goalie, and we're with you, just like we were in March.' West coast hockey has to stick together."
Stanford played the entire match without a goalie, and thus decided to go with a player advantage throughout the contest. Cal was aware beforehand of the strategy by Stanford, but it still presented new challenges compared to a regular game.
"It was tough," Onstead said. "It was an adjustment because we were essentially playing a player-down the entire time. You're kind of shifting the risk back and forth. They played a great tactical game. They played it slow and just tried to take us off of our game. They did a nice job with it."
Cato Knipping only needed to make two saves to get this clean sheet.
Cal 0, No.10 Liberty 3
Cal’s home opener was against Liberty on Sunday. With the Liberty Field Hockey opening their season in the Bay Area (they also beat UC Davis before Cal and then Stanford 5-1 on Monday), maybe their team is better shielded from the nearly complete lack of COVID protocols on their own campus.
Liberty jumped out with two quick goals in the opening minutes of this game and never looked back. Cal only got one shot in the first half but made the adjustment to take five shots in the second half.
Cal will next host Dartmouth next Sunday at 11 AM PT from Underhill.
Spring 2021 results: 5-6
Cal Field Hockey took two long East Coast trips during the pandemic, including a 3-0 trip to close out the season at Albany, New Hampshire, and Vermont, but missed out on the smaller America East conference tournament.
The team suffered the tragic loss of backup goalkeeper Zoe Rogers last fall from what was ruled a suicide by the police. One of the best to ever play in the Cal uniform, Megan Rodgers opted to skip her delayed senior season (where she could have easily become the 2nd best scorer in program history) and has moved on to the USA National Team, hoping to become a 2024 Paris “Calympian” should the USA qualify for that Olympic Games.
On the field for the Bears, Maddie Cleats and Brynn Zorilla both tied for the Cal lead with 4 goals and 2 assists. They have both returned for this fall 2021 campaign. Cal also has a couple of key Dutch players in now sophomore Kiki de Bruijne (3 goals) and now junior goalkeeper Cato Knipping.
The 2021 fall schedule will again see Cal go on several long East Coast trips, including a matchup at powerhouse Maryland. With just UC Davis and Stanford left on the west coast, Cal is one of the last hopes for West Coast Field Hockey after needing to file a lawsuit to get their current home of Underhill Field on campus.
The Bears could likely return to be the Best of the West this season, like over a decade ago, with Stanford retooling, but Cal will likely need to win the America East to make the NCAA tournament.
Cal Volleyball (2-1)
The Cal Bears were able to get out of Louisiana before Hurricane Ida hit. The Bears played three matches at the tournament hosted by Tulane in New Orleans. They swept the doubleheader on Friday before dropping the Saturday finale.
Cal 3, Alabama A&M 0 (25-12, 25-11, 25-8)
Outhitting Alabama A&M Bulldogs 0.446 to -0.031 (yes, that’s a negative hitting percentage), Cal cruised to an easy straight set victory in their season opener. Transfer Katie Smoot registered 13 kills to lead the Bears in her indoor debut for the Cal Bears. Freshman Annalea Maeder split the setting duty with senior Jade Blevins.
Cal 3, Northwestern State 0 (25-18, 25-11, 25-13)
Cal Bears also had no issue against the Northwestern State Lady Demons (this school is in Louisiana, in case you are wondering), outhitting them 0.406 to 0.117. Another transfer Leah Schmidt led the Bears with 11 kills. Maeder split time with sophomore Kendall Jansen in this match.
With a dig against Alabama A&M and then a kill registered in the Northwestern State match, Mima Mirkovic became only the 8th Cal Bears to have 1000 kills and 1000 digs. Cal Volleyball really needed its star player back this season.
From the official recap:
The Irvine, California native became the eighth player in Cal history to reach 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in her career, joining Lisa Arce, Jenna Brown, Jessica Dinaberg, Tarah Murrey, Alicia Perry, Angie Pressey and Tiffany Rochelle.
"When I first stepped foot into Haas Pavilion as a 17-year-old I set out on a mission to get 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs," Mirkovic said. "To be the eighth player in Cal history to achieve this as a smaller outside hitter just goes to show that heart trumps size. It's been a dream come true playing in the Pac-12 and achieving this alongside this group of girls specifically is just the cherry on top. It's exciting and I wouldn't have wanted to reach this goal with any other group of people. I can't wait for what's to come in my final season."
But for an unknown reason (likely an injury), Mirkovic was not available against Tulane on Saturday.
Cal 1, Tulane 3 (23-25, 28-26, 16-25, 22-25)
In the first real challenge of the season, Cal lost a close one to host Tulane Green Wave. Maeder really established herself as the new Cal setter with 41 assists in this one, setting mostly Smoot (18 kills on 49 swings), Sydney Lilomaiava (9 kills on 21 swings as the opposite), and Bella Bergmark (9 kills in 14 swings from the middle). Kat Pantovic, the clear best Cal player last year on a team without Mirkovic, made her season debut by playing in two sets in this one.
Cal will next visit Stockton for the Pacific tournament this weekend. They will face UC San Diego (recently promoted to Division 1), Tarleton State (a school in Texas), and Pacific.
Spring 2021 Results: 1-21, but that 1 is a rare win over rival Stanford
Who is gone:
Cal will have a brand new starting setter as Isabel Potter has graduated. Potter was solid for the Bears before a hand injury turned her into just a serve specialist late in the season.
Who is back:
Mima Merkovic has rejoined the squad after opting out this spring to concentrate on Beach Volleyball, where she was half of Cal’s No.1 pair. The 5th-year senior will probably supplant now-sophomore Katarina Pantovic as the all-rotation outside hitter.
Who is new:
Katie Smoot is an Arizona transfer who also opted out of last season to play Beach Volleyball. She will be a part of Cal’s outside hitting rotation along with a fellow Pac-12 transfer, from Utah, in Leah Schmidt.
A new setter, based on this first weekend, for the Bears is freshman Annalea Maeder from Switzerland. Another impact freshman is Sarah Schrag in the backrow as the libero/defensive speciliast, who already is the co-leader in digs despite only earning the starting libero role in Cal’s 3rd match.
Head Coach Sam Crosson’s 3rd season will hopefully see the Cal Bears return to the 64-team NCAA tournament field. Cal came oh-so-close two years ago but just did not get the love from the committee. A very tough shor-handed season due to key players opting out and graduate-transfering after the fall semester turned into a very tough spring season. This fall team should be much, much better, but the Pac-12 remains a tough conference top-to-bottom so this new team really needs to use the full non-conference part of the schedule to figure a lot of things out, like the new rotation and how to incorporate both Mirkovic and Pantovic.
Cal Men’s Soccer (0-1-1)
Opening their season on the road, Cal Men’s Soccer drops a close one in Moraga before bouncing back for a draw in Santa Barbara.
Cal 0, No.23 St. Mary’s 1
An 86th-minute goal by the home side was the difference in the battle of two East Bay squads.
Chris Gustini made 6 saves for the Cal Bears as the SMC Gaels outshot Cal 12 to 9 (7 to 4, on goal).
Cal 1, UCSB 1
Sophomore Wyatt Meyer scored both his first collegiate goal and the first official goal of this fall season. Check out his goal below. Cal goalkeeper Gustini got the assist for his long pass to an onside Meyer who made the most out of his 1-on-1 chance.
The Bears could not hold on to the 1-0 halftime lead and had to settle for a 1-1 draw. It would appear that the Bears are a bit short-handed in this match with Alonzo Del Mundo not registering any minutes.
Cal’s home opener is Friday at 1 pm PT against Dixie State, who moved up to Division 1 two years ago. UNLV will be the next visitor to Edwards Stadium on Sunday afternoon at 1 pm PT with that match on the Pac-12 Network.
Spring 2021 Results: 4-5-1
Playing a Pac-12 only schedule, Cal had to face three of the best teams in the country twice in 60% of their schedule. Golden Bears did manage to earn a draw against Stanford and split the two matches against Oregon State. Stanford, Washington, and Oregon State made the postseason tournament.
Who is gone:
Only one contributor from the spring season is gone - midfielder Francisco Perez has graduated. Tommy Williamson, who only played in one match after being drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes, has turned pro and is on loan to the USL team Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
Who is back:
Goalkeeping has been a strength for the Cal Bears and that lineage continued with a strong debut season from Collin Travasos last year (NOTE: redshirt senior Chris Gustini started both matches this past weekend). The sophomore will have two veterans in front of him in 5th-year senior Christopher Grey and senior Ian Lonergan. Grey is a Pac-12 1st-time pick while Lonergan is a Pac-12 Honorable Mention.
Jonathan Estrada who led the team with 3 goals and 2 assists for 8 points is also back as a forward. He is joined by 5th-year senior Alonzo Del Mundo, who had 9 assists to lead the Pac-12 back in 2019.
Midfielder Juan Martinez, who only started 4 of 10 matches in the spring, led the Bears with two goals in the three exhibition matches.
Who is new:
A talented trio of freshmen joins the squad. Japanese native and midfielder Shoei Honda chose Cal over professional opportunities. Defender Kevin Carmichael tallied an exhibition goal against USF. Fellow freshman defender Santiago Hopkins registered an assist against San Jose State.
Cal was picked by a couple of publications as the 20th-30th best team before the abbreviated spring season. A tough 0-3 start against an extremely tough schedule meant the Bears never got back in the rankings.
I think Cal will be able to just eke out a winning record to get back to the 32-team NCAA tournament field as one of the last at-large bids this fall. Head Coach Kevin Grimes has a great track record of developing players into future professionals. Even if that process was interrupted by the pandemic, this Cal team got enough veteran talent to challenge any Pac-12 opponents on any given match.
Cal Women’s Soccer (2-0-2)
Cal 2, Portland 0
After the brilliant performance by now dual-sport (Softball and Soccer) star Makena Smith at goal, Angelina Anderson was back to tend the goal. It was nil-nil until late when Anysa Gray scored in the 84th minute. Rilee Harmon’s shot was deflected by a Portland defender. Gray then used her speed to dribble past a defender and found the tough angle to send the ball into the goal via the back post.
Freshman Karlie Lima scored her first collegiate goal in the closing minute. Using her speed to win a 50/50 ball from Abena Aidoo, Lima beat the keeper for the final margin.
Angelina Anderson made two saves, including one via a penalty awarded to the Pilots in the 41st minute. This is her 15th career shutout.
Cal 1, St. Mary’s 1
Overcoming a 55th minute ball by SMC Gaels on a loose ball, Cal equalized on an Amaya Gray goal in the 80th minute. Amaya was able to score off a Sydney Collins cross. The Gray twins, now sophomore, are great offensive weapons for the Bears up front. Head coach Neil McGuire can also swap them in different positions and with different players.
Bears got a man advantage since the 72nd minute after Saint Mary's Maya Alcantara received a red card as the last defender who took down Cal’s Lima to deny a breakaway chance.
Cal had a lot of chances since the equalizer to score the golden goal but could not break through despite 12 o 6 shot advantage and 12 to 4 corner advantage. Angelina Anderson made 4 saves to continue her ascend on the Cal program history leaderboard.
Shoutout to Cal for providing an entertaining commentary in their online soccer streams this year. Dr. Ty-Ron Douglas, hired in late 2020 as Cal Athletics’ first-ever Associate Athletic Director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), provided plenty of enthusiasm on the call, despite not being provided a good enough seat to see which players is which by their jersey numbers.
Swedish midfielder and 5th-year senior Emma Westin has yet to make an appearance on this season. Westin’s abscence due to an injury late in the spring coincided with Cal’s offensive woes. The Golden Bears, thanks to the influx of new talent this fall, have been adjusting to Westin’s abscence a lot better so far against some tough non-conference opponents.
Bears will next host San Francisco on Thursday at 4 pm PT as the lone match of the week.
Last but definitely not least
If you are looking for some inspiration, check out Cal Rugby alum Robert Paylor's walk across the graduation stage in the delayed ceremony for 2020 graduates this past Sunday at the Greek Theatre on campus.
Paylor was paralyzed at the 2017 Varsity Cup Championship match when an Arkansas State player used an illegal move to pin Paylor and seriously injured his neck/spine. Against all odds, Paylor stayed positive during the arduous rehab process and was fortunate to eventually be able to have some feelings in all of his extremities. Paylor reached the important milestone of being able to stand up on his own power for the first time in 2020.
He has worked hard to be able to walk under his own power. Paylor graduated with a business degree from Haas and had started his career giving inspirational talks. Hear Robert Paylor talks about much walking that 5-10 yards meant to him in the embedded video in the Tweet below.
Paylor is a living embodiment of that famous Joe Kapp proclamation, “THE BEAR WILL NOT QUIT! THE BEAR WILL NOT DIE!”
The Paylor story is just one of those things that remains inspiring to the end.
I'm fascinated by the strategy of playing up a player instead of playing a goalie, and only losing 1-0. Should more teams be trying this?