A common sports cliché is that it's easier to reach the top than it is to stay on top. I don't really subscribe to that school of thought, as I tend to believe that success breeds more success. There's a reason more people are picking Cal and Stanford atop the conference than, say, Arizona or Washington State.
But if there is a kernel of truth to the cliché, it's that the challenge of maintaining excellence means that you can't slip up, even when there are very real reasons to expect a team's performance to decline, even if very slightly. It's something we discussed when CGB wrapped up the 2012-13 season with a look forward to this year.
And yet, the media expectations for this team seem to be just as strong as last year's breakthrough team, despite losing three key seniors. Various pre-season publications rank the Bears anywhere from the top 5 to the top 10. After years of flirting with greatness, Lindsay Gottlieb has already elevated the program to the point where greatness is now evidently expected.
Just so we're clear: that's a wonderful thing. It speaks volumes about the talent that Cal's coaching staff has brought in, the work they have done to develop it, and the effort of the players to maximize their skills. This is exactly where everybody wants this program to be.
So, what will it take for the Bears to again live up to lofty expectations? Coach G will need some of the veterans to take their games to the next level, and she will need immediate contributions from new players. She will need another year devoid of serious injuries. And somebody will have to step up to replace the go-to scoring of Layshia Clarendon.
Lindsay Gottlieb, in a quick pre-season interview with Jeff Faraudo, mentioned that Boyd looks ready for a big year:
From a basketball standpoint, the first thing is Brittany Boyd was really at a whole other level. She was magnificent in China. She's been our point guard for two years, and she's very dynamic. Her development allows me to be creative in the things we want to run - either make the play or make the play for somebody else.
That's exactly what Cal fans want to hear, particularly with the possibility that Gennifer Brandon will miss a few games to start the year as she recovers from surgery for a stress fracture. Her prognosis - discussed in the interview linked above - appears to be positive.
Cal's season begins on November 8th against Long Beach State, and the non-conference schedule toughens very quickly. Over the next few weeks we'll have articles looking at every Cal player on the roster and their likely roles this year and how the Bears stack up against the rest of the Pac-12. We're only a month away!