Welcome back to the CGB weekly recap/preview/discussion of all the Cal Non-revenue sports. After taking a few weeks of mental break, I am back and looking forward to the new school year - where perhaps the Golden Bears can do even better than the two team championships (women's swimming and rugby 7s) won in these past school year, in addition to the numerous individual championships.
In case you missed it, Cal Athletics put together this nice recap of the 2014-15 seasons - containing all the great moments and a poignant sad one too.
Plenty of Golden Bears (current, alum, and future) were in action over the summer at the World University Games, Pan American Games, and also the recently completed Swimming World Championships. I will get to those results next week.
With the training camp starting in these past couple of weeks (or at least the team photos, head shots, and all the social media activities has picked up), let's look up at last season and my quick (somewhat uneducated) expectations for the 2015 season on the various Cal fall sports. This is part 1 of my fall sports preview, I will get to the Men's Water Polo and Field Hockey on a future date.
10-20, 2-18 in the Pac-12
In an year when a record number (10) of Pac-12 teams made the NCAA tournament, the Golden Bears was the one team that unfortunately made sure that everyone else qualified. Combination of bad luck and inconsistency made the record look far worse than the talent level possessed by the Bears. Bears also had trouble getting consistency performance from freshmen used as the starting outside hitter between Ashten Smith-Gooden and Christina Alftin.
Opposite Christina Higgins and defensive specialists Marlee Davis has graduated. DS/OH Sarah Cole and previous back up setter Sammy Furlan are also not listed on the roster for 2015 - both may be concentrating on Beach Volleyball (The updated CalBears.com has now listed that sports as "Beach" rather than "Sand").
Higgins was one of the Bears' top offensive weapon last year, in addition to Lillian Schonewise in the middle. Team depth and freshmen should have the DS and backup setter role covered.
Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked
The 2014 Golden Bears were better than that result. Another talented recruiting class plus the expected growth of the young players last season should have the Bears in a position to return to the NCAA tournament (granted, that's got to be the minimum goal for a program like Cal...which is something that head coach Rich Feller has build in his long tenure in Berkeley). I expect a few upset victories and few disappointing losses, but the Bears should be fighting for a NCAA tournament berth at the end of the year, where they may need to win one of the last two matches (on the road at Stanford and on the road at USC).
Cal Volleyball will be the first team to enjoy the newly renovated Haas Pavilion. I am sure the new scoreboard will make the game experience that much better in 2015. If you live in the area (or are a current student) and have not been to a Cal Volleyball match, it is always very exciting and you get to see the top volleyball talent in the country coming through Haas.
Practice started earlier this week:
The Bears will rely heavily on the senior class, lead by the newly named All Pac-12 Preseason Team member and Co-Team Captain (along with libero Maddy Kerr), Lillian Schonewise in the middle. Lara Vukasovic, whose Cal career has been rather intriguing between playing outside or middle, will again be an interesting X-factor to the success of this squad. From the team photos (see below), it would appear that Vukasovic will be playing in the middle again.
The 2015 senior class. pic.twitter.com/dHUPWU3NHj
— Cal Volleyball (@CalVolleyball) August 9, 2015
Who will step up to claim the Opposite spot vacated by the graduation of Christina Higgins? The 9th ranked Cal incoming class is loaded with talent that can fill that role and/or push the opposite hitter roles of now sophomore in Smith-Gooden and Alftin. Senior Nikki Gombar should also be a big part of the rotation.
A familiar sight at the sidelines may help the Bears' outside hitters greatly this year. Tarah Murrey happened to the most heralded Cal volleyball recruit before Smith-Gooden last year.
The baddest middle blockers in the land! pic.twitter.com/2q792wQq8a
— Cal Volleyball (@CalVolleyball) August 9, 2015
All 4 of the Golden Bears middle blockers are at least 6'2" tall. This should the Bears' strength. I would also be interested in seeing how sophomore Laura Leap performs (she didn't see any action last year), the previous top 100 rated recruit certainly look intimidating at the net.
The defense! pic.twitter.com/T0eJvBSFGm
— Cal Volleyball (@CalVolleyball) August 9, 2015
When she is not just enjoying the Golden State Warriors parade, junior Maddy Kerr (number 9) plays libero (the main defense specialists who wear the opposite color uniform and can be subbed in and out without counting against a team's allotment of substitutions) for the Golden Bears. Senior Mary McKennon played the libero position in her freshman year prior to the arrival of Kerr. She will surely be a big part of the DS rotation again.
Junior Alyssa Jensen is back to quarterback the Cal attack. Freshman Mackenzie Albrecht will be the backup. I guess there is always the option, should the Bears have two solid setters, for coach Feller to implement the 6-2 offense with two setters. That has not happened yet for the Bears.
Fans' first chance to see the 2015 Cal Volleyball team is the scrimmage on Saturday, August 22nd. The scrimmage will take place at Haas after Gold Bears Day at the concourse by Memorial Stadium earlier that day.
Cal Men's Soccer
11-7-1, 4-5-1 in Pac-12
Bears advanced to the NCAA 3rd round (Sweet Sixteen) for the 2nd consecutive year (it was the Elite Eight the year before). For the 2nd consecutive season, the Golden Bears were a national title contender.
For the second straight year, the Bears graduated plenty of key talents who fans can now follow on MLS. Connor Hallisey was the 10th overall pick to Sporting KC. He lead the Bears last season with 30 points (9 goals, 12 assists). Also gone is Stefano Bonomo (who had the team high 12 goals and 5 assists for 29 points). Omid Jalali (4 goals, 1 assists) has also graduated. The guy who has taken almost all of the corners for the Bears, Seth Casiple, has also graduated.
Possibly more importantly, Bears' starting goalkeeper for the past two seasons (before suffering a late season ending injuries in each of the two past seasons when the Bears are about to start their postseason runs), Justin Taillole has graduated.
Finally, RIP to Eloi Vasquez, who passed away in a tragic accident during the spring break.
Preseason Ranking: 16
About 50% of the Cal goals scored (or more importantly set up) in 2014 were by the now gone seniors. The offensive outburst of 2014 is probably not going to be repeated in 2015. Nevertheless, the two years of national soccer prominence has resulted in yet another fine recruiting class for Coach Kevin Grimes (ranked 21st in the country by College Soccer News). It's a big unknown to me, how much the Bears will struggle in 2015 in what could easily be a rebuilding year. I would not necessarily read that much into the preseason ranking and believe that the Bears are a top 25 team in the country. While the incoming class has talent, it has traditionally took time for Coach Grimes to mold the future MLS 1st round picks. Cal fans may need to be patient in 2015.
I expect plenty of goals to be scored (though probably not at the top in the country rate of the 2014 team) by the talented sophomores in Paul Salcedo and Jose Carrere-Garcia. Top returning scorer for the Bears is junior Christian Thierjung and his 7 goals and 2 assists (dude also has the knack to score game-winners).
Salcedo is on the preseason All Pac-12 list.
Junior (and former transfer) Trevor Haberkorn and sophomore Joshua Morton were instrumental to the Bears defensive line in their first seasons on the team in 2014. They will be counted on to repeat their performances. They may also be getting some help from the recruiting class.
Alex Mangels will likely man the net for the Bears. Mangels has stepped up in the past two seasons after injuries to Justin Taillole. How much will Mangels be pushed by Jonathan Klinsmann (yes, the son of Jurgen)? Klinsmann has played on the US U-18 National Team as well as the training camp for the US U-23 team (along side Cal's Paul Salcedo).
Cal Women's Soccer
14-6-2, 5-4-2 in the Pac-12
Bears won their NCAA 1st round match in thrilling fashion thanks to a Golden Goal by Arielle Shipp. Bears' season ended in a 3-1 2nd round loss at Florida.
Taylor Comeau really stepped up her play in her senior year for the Bears, leading the team with 8 goals and 7 assists. Given head coach Neil McGuire's fondness to play a lot of people, Bears also lost rotation players in Lorin Hom (3 goals, 3 assists), Thelma Einarsdottir (scored 2 goals), and former American Junior contestant and constant Cal Women's Soccer national anthem singer in Grace Leer (she was also quite good on the field, scoring 6 goals to go with 2 assists).
Preseason Ranking: 18
Out of the previews written for this week, I'm the most optimistic on Cal Women's Soccer. While the top of the Pac is still quite good and the preseason pick of 3rd place may again be accurate, I would not be shocked if the Bears stay in the conference race against UCLA and Stanford until the very late and advance deep into the postseason in 2015. After enjoying a steady flow of top talent to Berkeley, I think the Cal Women's Soccer program is on the verge of taking that next step soon. Certainly, it is tougher for the women's soccer team to do this than for the men's soccer team, given the larger number of women's soccer programs, but if health and luck finally favor our Golden Bears, look out. Both UCLA (in 2013) and Stanford (in 2011) have won their program's first NCAA women's soccer title in recent years, I think it is our turn now.
Ifeoma Onumonu is back and healthy. The senior striker is an All-American type talent if she can remain healthy. The Bears are also just adding 4 new faces to the squad - transfer Emma Fletcher, who plays on the Canadian U-20 team and three freshmen. Adding a healthy Onumonu and Fletcher to an already very successful team, the Bears will look to build on last season's success.
Other than those two, expect to see plenty of goals scored by Celeste Boureille and Kelly Fitzgerald (both of them scored 6 goals last year as the top returning scorers), along with Sam Witteman. With Onumonu back in the fold, I am hoping to see the Bears eclipse their 47 goals scored in 2015. Bears have featured a very balanced attack for several seasons now. There are plenty of passing and many players capable of putting the ball into the net.
Defensively, sophomore Emily Boyd will return to man the net for the Golden Bears. She will be helped out in the back by the superb sophomore line of Haley Lukas, Annia Mejia, and Indigo Gibson.
The growth and expected improvements of the very large Cal freshmen from last year will be the key to the 2015 success.
Bears will open the season defending their top 25 ranking in Hawaii, against No.20 BYU.