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Cal Softball and Lacrosse previews

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Both of these women’s sports start play this weekend.

#LevelUp is the twitter slogan for AT CalSB for the 2019 season
Cal Softball Twitter

This week’s post will focus solely on the upcoming Cal Softball and Cal Lacrosse seasons. Nonetheless, there are plenty of events this weekend on campus across various sports.

Go support your Cal Bears this weekend:


Cal Softball - 2019 prospect has high floor but also low ceiling

2018 Record: 35-21, 7-16 in Pac-12

Postseason: Yes, 1-2 in the Georgia Regional with both losses to Northwestern

Key Returnees: Zoe Conley and Kalamani Dung (starting pitching tandem), Lindsay Rood (top hitter), Mikayla Coelho (top home run hitter)

Key Losses: Jazmyn Jackson and Kolbie Pettis (graduation), Bradie Fillmore (transferred to Boise State after 2 seasons as Cal starter)

It’s hard to complain about a program that has consistently make it to the NCAA postseason as well as beat rival Stanford (even if it is helped by the Stanford program still being in shambles after being rocked by a scandal few years ago), but it would certainly be great for Cal Softball to take a step toward being back as a perennial national title contender.

For Cal fans who may have forgotten, Cal Softball was the first Cal women’s program to win a team NCAA championship back in 2002 - a feat that has since been matched and surpassed by the multiple NCAA team titles won by Cal Women’s Swimming and Diving and Cal Women’s Crew (4 championships each). Golden Bears made 7 consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances between 1999 and 2005 including 3 consecutive trips to the championship final (winning in 2002 but runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004). Head coach Diane Ninemire, the winningest coach across all Cal sports, led the Bears back to the WCWS in 2011 and 2012 but the Bears cannot make it out of the Regional since.

While the consistency of Cal Softball IS remarkable - winning record and postseason appearance for every season except for 2014 since Ninemire took over in 1988 (Cal’s postseason streak actually dates back to two years prior to that year), the program has stalled as that 20th-30th best squad in the country. There is a clear separation between the Cal Bears and the best teams in the Pac-12, which is typically also the best in the country even with the SEC catching up or arguably surpassing the Pac-12 as the top college softball conference. 2019 is unlikely to see much of a change to the Cal Softball fate of finishing in the middle of the Pac and being eliminated in the Regional (as the clear 2nd best team there).

The slightly distant future (2021 season and on) may be really bright though. Cal Softball is getting a new facility in the near future (construction should start either spring/summer of 2019 and takes about 15 months), which should help with recruiting. With two alumni (Valerie Arioto and Jazmyn Jackson) being on track to shine for the favorite Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics next year, the Cal program should get even more positive exposures next summer when softball returns to the general public’s radar.

Now, back to the 2019 team.

PITCHING

The one year that the Golden Bears did not qualify for the postseason, they did not have good enough pitching after the graduation of Jolene Henderson. That should not be a worry for this Cal squad.

Bears will have a lot of experience in the circle with a pair of former transfers - Zoe Conley (16-14, 2.25 ERA, 189 K in 195.2 IP) and Kamalani Dung (19-5, 1.96 ERA, 186 K in 160.2 IP) looking to build on their solid Cal legacies in their senior campaigns. Dung got some potentially very important international experience over the summer in leading the Puerto Rico team to the Central American games Gold. Of course, some Cal fans may recall her pitching a perfect game last year against UTEP.

While Dung had the better overall number last year, Conley was the one being counted on as the ace last year, facing tougher competitions particularly during the Pac-12 play. Both pitchers will get a new pitching coach on the Cal staff for the 2019 season in former UCLA great Anjelica Selden. One complaint that I had with Conley and Dung last year was the lack of strikeout - having the all-time UCLA leader in strikeouts could drastically improve that aspect of their games.

TL;DR Having two experienced pitchers is why Cal Softball should be a pretty high floor for 2019 as a good bet to return to the NCAA postseason. The two senior pitchers have shown the ability to make Cal a pretty good team but still a rung or two below the elites.

HITTING

The surest bat in the Cal lineup is senior Lindsay Rood, an efficient slapper who lead the team in batting average (0.337) and on-base percentage (0.404) last year. Rood is also a speed demon on the base path with a team best 31 SB in 32 attempts (2/3 of the team total). She should be back as the leadoff bat for the Golden Bears in her senior season.

Cal Softball will need to see some massive outputs from the underclassmen to make a run at the WCWS. With 3.5 (0.5 for another graduated senior in Taurie Pogue who had 120 ABs in addition to the 3 departed players I had mentioned above) spot in the lineup to fill, Bears will be counting on some contributions from freshmen.

Cal freshmen trio of OF Amani Bradley, LHP/1B Alexandra Perez, C Makena Smith all came from the same region (Murrieta in Riverside county). They were on the same team as 6 years old, but then played against each other in club and high school teams. They along with Infielder Morgan Zamora will have the opportunity to get ABs for the Bears.

More realistically though, Bears will be looking at their sophomore class to improve on their freshmen season. Mikayla Coehlo became a rare freshmen to lead the Bears in both homers (7) and RBI (36) last year. That feat is a little bit deceiving because Cal was an all-speed but no power team for a few seasons before last year; one would really hope that the team’s top slugger has double digit homers. Nonetheless, Coehlo is a good bet to be one of the top statistical leader for the Bears again.

Fellow sophomore Sabrina Nunez came on big for the Bears late in the season as she only got 76 AB but had the team’s 4th best batting average. Karlee Sparacino, who got a lot of early ABs at 3rd, struggled with a batting average of 0.203 in 153 AB (5th most on the team); she will hopefully have a more product season at the plate.

TL;DR Outside of Rood getting on base and stealing her way to scoring position, the rest of the Cal lineup is a huge question mark.

SCHEDULE

Golden Bears will be really challenging themselves yet again during the preconference season. Bears will open the season this weekend from Louisiana when they are scheduled to face a number of teams, including host No.15 Louisiana Lafayette in a double header on Monday (the first games to be streamed).

ESPN will have coverage of Cal’s 2nd weekend of play next weekend when they travel to Clearwater, Florida to take on a field that includes Texas, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, and Minnesota. After weekends in Palm Spring, Santa Barbara, and Hawaii, Bears will open Pac-12 play on March 15th at Utah. Stanford will visit Berkeley for 3 games on March 23rd-25th.

With some implication for Cal’s Pac-12 winning chances, Bears will be facing UCLA and ASU on the road this year while hosting Washington, Arizona, and Oregon State. While I think the Bears can improve on that 7-16 Pac-12 record from last year, I will be very pleasantly surprised if they are better than 0.500 in Pac-12 play.


Cal Lacrosse - Steadily getting more competitive but still no winning record since 2013

2018 Record: 6-12, 2-8 in Pac-12

Key returnee: Senior Goalie Jenny Wilkens (have started virtually every game since her freshman year) and Junior Attacker Kirsten Swanson (team best 43 goals and 56 points)

Key departure: Defender Meredith Haggerty (1st team All-MPSF in 2017, 2nd team All-Pac-12 in 2018)

On the flip side of Cal Softball success is Cal Lacrosse, who has never been great but also a few years removed from years of mediocrity (~0.500 record between 2006 and 2013). Looking back at the history, Cal Lacrosse was decent in the early 2000’s when they and Stanford were the main west coast schools offering this sport.

Since then, plenty of other west coast schools have added women’s lacrosse with 2018 seeing the sport being officially sponsored by the Pac-12 thanks to ASU adding the sport. Unfortunately, the growth of the sports in the west has somehow turned into other programs leapfrogging Cal.

2019 is the 5th season for Cal head coach Brooke Eubanks who has yet to navigate the Golden Bears to a winning record. If we have a generous bar of calling a 5 goal or less loss as a competitive game, Golden Bears were only competitive in 23 of their games (12 of 18) in 2018 (and in case you are wondering, nope both games against Stanford were not competitive). While that’s bad, that’s actually an improvement over 2017 when the Bears were only competitive in 10 of 18 contests. 2016 saw the Cal team only competitive in 6 of 18 games. The team is at least trending in the correct direction, even if the improvements have been slight.

8 Bears had double digit goals in 2018 and 7 of them are back, including the top 3 goal scorers led by senior Kirsten Swanson (43 goals, 13 assists) and top assist player in sophomore Nikki Zaccaro (20 assists, 11 goals). Bears should be okay-ish in tallying goals.

Unfortunately for the Bears, they do graduate a key defender in Meredith Haggerty (defense doesn’t really show up on the box score I have for Cal Lacrosse) along with two other defenders and the Bears were already an overall poor defensive team in 2018. This is despite having one of the best keeper in senior Jenny Wilkens who is one of the best in the country in saves (partly due to how much experience she had facing shots with a porous Cal defense in front of her); Wilkens regularly makes 8+ saves and has had 429 saves against 1071 shots faced in her 3 year Cal career thus far. Wilkens also has 119 career ground balls which is already 2nd best in Cal program history.

Bears will host Michigan and Denver this weekend to open the year. Bears will then make a Vegas trip and a Washington, DC trip (early March, likely to reward Kirsten Swanson who came from the DC area) before Pac-12 play starts on March 8th. 5 Cal contests will be on the Pac-12 Networks and Cal fans can also track to Memorial Stadium for up to 8 games in 2019. The season ending Pac-12 tournament will be hosted by Oregon in late April.

GO BEARS!