Resilient Squad Has Bright Future Ahead After Hard-Fought Season

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It's easy to forget that the Cal field hockey team is just one year removed from a completely overhauled lineup.

10 graduating seniors from an ideal cast of players in 2008 left in their wake a fledgling Bears squad - one that, like its predecessor, finished as runner-up to Stanford in the NorPac championship match.

This fall, that same squad started to emerge from the shadow cast by Cal's 2008 juggernaut.

16-year head coach Shellie Onstead has seen many teams throughout her career, both her own and those on the opposite side of the field. With such a prolific tenure, it's no wonder that she remains unfazed by trivialities like records and national standings.

Onstead was impressed by the caliber of such opponents as No. 1 North Carolina and No. 9 Wake Forest, but was more taken with her team's mental fortitude.

What Onstead believed as profound was the way her team united to overcome the shock of the death of freshman Rosa Stabler's mother during the team's roadtrip to North Carolina, a reality much harsher than a back-to-back set.

"Resiliency is something we've been lacking in past years, and in terms of being able to dig deep and push past your limits," Onstead said. "It's one of those things that coaches can talk about a lot, but it's an elusive skill."

The squad recovered emotionally the day after, enough to bounce back from a 5-1 loss to the Demon Deacons and hold the Tar Heels to just one goal despite their overwhelming shot advantage.

If anything, resiliency has been the theme for Onstead's team the entire season. After the difficult weekend in North Carolina, Cal came away with the realization that it could not only hang with, but also match the level of the nation's top teams.

And the Bears (10-9, 5-1 in NorPac) were not proven wrong in the conference tournament, even though their wins over Radford and Davidson, in particular, did not come easy. The arduous 100-plus minutes against the Wildcats were just a microcosm of Cal's season-long determination.

"I think that semifinal game where we had to dig for two overtimes and finish on strokes was enormous," Onstead said. "That showed me ultimately the character of the team."

Although the Bears fell to Stanford again in the tournament finals, they have all the factors in place to overcome the obstacle that even the 2008 squad couldn't hurdle.

"I think resiliency be the key ingredient of top performances of being a competitive or championship-level team," Onstead said.

"I've always believed that whatever the level your team has as a whole, that if you have that, it's better than if you don't. It's something that is pretty powerful, and I'm very happy to see that this year."

With last season's rebuilding phase over, the Bears can look forward to the beginning of their peak in 2011. The core that toppled then-No. 16 Stanford in the regular season will remain largely intact, apart from graduating points leader Megan Psyllos, all-conference selection Lisa Lohre and two-time Defensive Player of the Week Maddie Hand.

Moreover, a squad that withstood trials on and off the field this year will be altogether more formidable next season, especially with the return of a senior and nine juniors.

"I think we're still pretty young and that we're going to be quite good next year with some good recruits on board," Onstead said. "I think we're going to be a real force to be reckoned with."

Tags: SHELLIE ONSTEAD, CAL FIELD HOCKEY


Catherine Nguyen covers field hockey. Contact her at [email protected]



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