-Berkeley, CA Thursday morning at Edwards stadium, the Bears wrap up practice with some light jogging and a very laid back mood for the start of the season. Just looking at the field, you would guess that it would be a team loaded with upperclassmen, but that’s hardly the case. The Bears lost 6 of their starting 11 from last season. To Head Coach Neil McGuire however, he is just excited at the prospect of this young squad. “We have a very young team. In fact, tomorrow we have no seniors starting. It’s going to be predominantly freshman, sophomore, and juniors playing tomorrow. That’s simply because of the nature of how the classes have fallen. We’re a young team. We’re a talented team.”
Despite the lack of senior experience, the philosophy for the team remains balanced and versatile. “We are capable of playing in multiple ways. We can keep the ball, as we’re very good in possession. As a result of that, we can take advantage of territory and keep the ball closer to the opponents goal. However, there are teams that are going to pin us back and play us in our own half. Many of the teams that we are going to play this fall can do that. So we will have to use the counter attack as a weapon.”
The one problem they won’t have is finishing in the final third. Last season, the Bears were undefeated when scoring 2 or more goals, going 9-0 in said situations. You can expect more of that,as the team returns 88% of their total scoring, led by Junior Forwards Miranda Nild and Abi Kim who bagged 7 goals each last season. All eyes will be on Abi Kim as she returns from spending the summer with the US Women’s U20 team for the World Cup in France.
“We are extremely proud of Abi. To play in a World Cup is every player’s dream, and to see her achieve that goal, after all the work that she did coming in as a freshman to now, it really is amazing. So we are really proud of her.” - HC Neil McGuire
Abi played 100 minutes through the US’ group stage games, notching an assist in the 6-0 thrashing against Paraguay. When asked about how he plans to integrate her back in after a summer with the national squad HC McGuire did not sound to worried. “In terms of when she’ll be ready to be a 90 minute player, we are not entirely sure. We feel like the loads that she did, over the course of her preparation for the World Cup, are similar to the loads of our current players. So we will just manage that accordingly, but there is no question that she is an exceptional talent and a player we are looking forward to having on the field.”
Overall the squad may be very young but Coach McGuire thinks that their biggest growth has already happened. “It’s been good to see them take on information and not see it as criticism. That tends to be something that young players tend to take a bit of time to get used to. So our communication to them is obviously one that’s honest, but they’ve taken the feedback very well. So their emotional maturity is really impressive.”
So what is the goal for this young squad? Well. That’s best answered by Sophomore Captain Emily Smith. “Obviously we look at it a game at a time, but we want to win the Pac-12, from there do really well in the tournament and win a national championship. But it’s one game at a time, and we are going to compete one game at a time.”
So expect some growing pains, but expect composure. Expect some inexperience, but expect competitiveness. After all, Emily did say she believes the strength of the squad is tackling, getting in opponents faces and going the other way. And with this type of scoring prowess? That could be the final piece of the puzzle for this team to make a name for themselves.