Up and Down Year to Help Squad in Future

Photo: Alex Morgan missed much of the season while playing for the national team. Despite the squad's losses, not having their co-captain helped develop the younger players on the team.
Anna Vignet/File
Alex Morgan missed much of the season while playing for the national team. Despite the squad's losses, not having their co-captain helped develop the younger players on the team.

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About a month into the season, it seemed that 2010 was the Cal women's soccer team's year. The undefeated Bears had scored 26 goals in their first nine games.

Cal tied ranked competition such as No. 16 UC Irvine and No. 19 Santa Clara - results that the team with 17 underclassmen boasted proudly. They frequently steamrolled over unranked competition, posting a 6-0 shutout against Long Beach State and an 8-1 victory over Hawaii.

"The girls prepared very well in the summer, and they came in ready," coach Neil McGuire said. "We were at full strength physically, we had all our players available to us, and when that was the case, we were very difficult to deal with."

It wasn't until freshman defender Emi Lawson's 87th minute goal saved Cal from a 1-0 loss to Pacific that the Bears' offensive dominance was questioned.

However, Cal's attacking end would have more questions to answer in the intermittent absences of senior co-captain Alex Morgan. The tie against Pacific was the start of a dry spell for the Bears - a nearly one-month period in which the team went entirely winless. Morgan was gone for three of those five games. The first of those absences was the Cal's first loss, 3-1, against No. 2 Portland.

"When you have someone that's scored as many goals as Alex does, and suddenly she's gone for the major bulk of conference play, a team really does have to work hard and find out who's going to step up," McGuire said.

The Bears' top-scorer since her freshman year, Morgan was now offering her services to the national team. She missed all but three games of conference play, scoring four of her 14 goals in two of the Pac-10 games.

It wasn't simply Morgan's absence that hindered Cal's offense. While players such as Lauren Battung and Katrin Omarsdottir could chip away at her absence on the scoreboard, injuries to key attackers haunted the Bears all season.

"We ended up with an unbalance in our roster in the number of forwards that were injured, while we had full strength everywhere else," McGuire said.

Cal's defensive record reflected that full strength McGuire said existed elsewhere on the field. While goalkeeper Emily Kruger managed 60 saves in her freshman season, the Bears' dynamic defense, particularly Lawson and junior Danielle Brunache minimized that number.

In spite of that defensive prowess, Cal's conference record was an abysmal 2-4-1 by the last weekend of Pac-10 play. With a historic loss to last-place Arizona, the Bears needed another turning point in their season.

It was the young players like Lawson who were the key to that late improvement and an NCAA tournament bid. In one weekend, freshman Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick scored game-winning goals against Oregon and Pac-10 runner-up No. 15 Oregon State to turn Cal's conference play around.

Of the seven players who scored more than once this season, five were underclassmen.

While the Bears' offense got used to playing without Morgan's goal-scoring abilities this season, the coordination of the Cal's midfield coordination will suffer from the graduation of Megan Jesolva and co-captain Emily Shibata.

"We traveled 14 of 22 players, all underclassmen, to the NCAA tournament," McGuire said. "While we lose very talented players, we feel like these were great experience games for the younger players."

Tags: ALEX MORGAN, CAL WOMEN'S SOCCER, NEIL MCGUIRE, MEGAN JESOLVA, EMILY SHIBATA, EMI LAWSON


Alex Matthews covers women's soccer. Contact her at [email protected]



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