We continue our previews of 2016 Cal Fall Olympic sports. I wrote about Cal Women’s Soccer and Cal Field Hockey last week. This week’s post will preview Cal Volleyball and Cal Men’s Soccer. Field Hockey, Men’s Soccer, and Volleyball will all begin their season this weekend. Coming up next week are the previews for Cal Men’s Water Polo and Cross Country.
2015 Season: 9-21, 3-17 in Pac-12
Key Returning Players: Seniors Libero Maddy Kerr and Setter Alyssa Jensen are both climbing the Cal Volleyball program all-time record list in digs (5th with 1351) and assists (7th with 2359), respectively. Both players would certainly love to lead the Golden Bears back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 (their freshman season when Jensen was just a backup).
X-Factor: Cal Volleyball is hoping to get some production out of a former highly-touted top recruit. No, I am not referring to Savannah Rennie, who is finally back in Berkeley and back practicing with the team in some capacity despite the recent liver transplant.
Ashten Smith-Gooden, the highest rated Cal Volleyball recruit since Tarah Murrey (who just became a new mom with her fellow Cal Bear fiancee Marcus Semien), sat out all of 2015 due to an injury. If she can turn into that reliable outside hitter that the Bears sorely missed last year, 2016 Cal Volleyball is a brand new team. Smith-Gooden is out to prove that she can be a top Division 1 athlete despite being diabetic.
Expectation: Given the recent struggles of Cal Volleyball in the past few seasons, mainly due to unforeseen time missed by top recruits, a “bounce back” season would only require a return to the NCAA tournament. Bears are really just one good recruiting class from a trip back to the postseason. Given the strength of the Pac-12 conference, a winning season at the end of the regular season should again be sufficient to earn a postseason berth.
The key to Cal success in 2016 would be to have consistent outside hitting. Bears graduated two great middle blocker in Lillian Schonewise and Lara Vukasovic (along with Nikki Gombar and defensive specialist Mary McKennon). The problem in 2015 was that there existed rotations when the Bears did not have a go-to source for kills.
Junior Christina Alftin has been the Bears’ all-rotation outside hitter, but she has yet to perform up to the level of her predecessor in Adrienne Gehan. Freshmen Maddie Haynes and Bailee Huizenga may push Alftin for playtime this year.
Senior Jenelle Jordan, who got to tour China with the Pac-12 traveling team this summer, will be the main middle blocker this year. She will be counted on to tutor inexperienced middle blockers.
Bears open their 2016 campaign with the Molten Classic. Bears will play Southern Utah tonight (during the Cal - Hawaii Football game) and then UC Riverside on Saturday night.
The level of player between Cal Volleyball’s out-of-conference matches and the Pac-12 matches are always night-and-day. Even if Golden Bears are winning these early matches in straight sets, it does not necessarily predict a good conference season. Of course, should the Bears struggle during these early season matches...let’s just hope that that’s not going to happen.
The Bears held their annual team bonding dinner at the home of Rich and Stacey Feller on Sunday night. The Fellers made the team a delicious dinner, and then each class made a presentation to their teammates. It was a meaningful night for this tight-knit team. They are definitely ready to start the season on Friday!
Cal Men’s Soccer
2015 Season: 9-6-2, 4-4-2 in Pac-12 (no postseason berth after a strong start to the season)
Preseason Ranking: 23rd by Soccer America, Unranked by Coaches’ Poll
Key Returning Players: Seniors defensive back Nick Lima is both a key defender while also a pivotal facilitator on offense. He had 4 assists last year. Senior forward/midfielder Christian Thierjung has always had the knack to score winners. He scored 9 goals for the Bears in 2015.
Golden Bears actually return a lineup with plenty of experience. 9 starters and several more subs are back. Redshirt junior striker Jose Carrera-Garcia returns after scoring 5 goals to go with a team high 10 assists in 2015.
X-Factor: Paul Salcedo (listed this year as Paul Salcedo-Borrego) will likely be the main midfielder who the Bears rely on during set pieces. The junior had shown moments of brilliance in his first two years. Is this the year when he elevate his game to another level?
Expectation: A mixture of both veterans and impact newcomers, the success of the 2016 season will be determined by how much the Golden Bears learned from last season.
After missing out on the postseason in 2015, the expectation may be a little bit lower for 2016. Nonetheless, the Golden Bears have seen great senior seasons (Steve Birnbaum, Connor Hallisey) leading to team success in recent years. If one or two of the Cal veterans can make that jump to become the next MLS 1st round pick, then Cal should surprise plenty of folks.
All 5 of the Golden Bears freshman are highly regarded enough to probably see the pitch for significant stretches in 2016. Freshman keeper Drake Callender might even push last year’s starter in Jonathan Klinsmann.
Golden Bears are picked to finish 4th in the conference behind perennial power UCLA, 2015 NCAA champ Stanford (at least Jordan Morris has graduated now), and Washington (I would put them as the equals of the Bears).
Last Week on Cal Olympic Sports:
Playing without a leg brace for the first time in two years, Cal Redshirt senior Ifeoma Onumonu scored the only goal of the match in the 63rd minute. Junior keeper Emily Boyd kept a clean sheet and the Bears won their season opener.
Playing without the reigning Player of the Year in Arielle Ship, No.18 Golden Bears was kept scoreless by No.21 Santa Clara at Santa Clara. With only 4 minutes to go until this match was going to be a draw, Santa Clara’s Roering found the way to score the Golden Goal and handed the Golden Bears their first loss of the young season.
Schedule for the Week:
Four Golden Bears squads will be playing in Berkeley this weekend. It will be the season openers for Cal Men’s Soccer, Volleyball, and Field Hockey this weekend.
Cal Women’s Soccer vs. New Mexico - 2 PM PT from Edwards Stadium in Berkeley, CA
Cal Men’s Soccer vs. St. Mary’s - 4:30 PM PT from Edwards Stadium in Berkeley, CA
Cal Volleyball vs. Southern Utah - 7 PM PT from Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, CA
Cal Volleyball vs. UC Riverside - 7 PM PT from Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, CA
Cal Women’s Soccer vs. Portland - 12 PM PT from Edwards Stadium in Berkeley, CA
Cal Field Hockey vs. Northeastern - 2 PM PT from Underhill Field in Berkeley, CA
Cal Men’s Soccer vs. Penn State - 3 PM PT on Pac-12 Networks from Edwards Stadium in Berkeley, CA