Back In Camp: Field Hockey
BERKELEY - Similar to many other fall sports, 2021 will go in the history books as the year in which the California field hockey program competed in two separate regular seasons in the same calendar year.
Cal returned to the pitch on Wednesday with the first practice of fall training camp after completing the spring 2021 season just a few months ago. The Golden Bears played in the spring after the 2020 fall campaign was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The unusual year has produced numerous positive aspects, though. The spring season did not count against eligibility. Therefore, members of the squad like graduate student Maddie Cleat are able to return and play for the Bears again this fall.
"Usually in the spring we only have a couple of scrimmages against UC Davis and Stanford, whereas this time we managed to have an 11-game season, which has allowed us to accomplish a lot more," Cleat said. "It allowed the freshmen to gain experience playing hockey at a collegiate level, which will be important for this fall. As a team, we created a fantastic culture that will hopefully be carried on throughout this season."
Freshmen like Kiki de Bruijne were forced to improvise a lot in getting adjusted to collegiate field hockey and college life in general, especially since she is an international student from The Netherlands.
Like many Cal student-athletes, de Bruijne stayed at home during the fall and took her courses online, including some in the middle of the night due to the time difference. Fortunately for her, though, she was able to continue playing field hockey in her native country.
That experience definitely aided her as she was named the America East Rookie of the Year last spring, and also tabbed to the AE All-Conference First Team. As much as she's honored to be recognized for her hard work, she knows she can't let the conference accolades distract her from continuing to grow as a player and a consistent contributor for her team.
"You don't grow by putting too much pressure on yourself, but instead by having fun while playing and challenging yourself to raise the bar even higher," de Bruijne said. "What's most important for me is having fun while playing the game. Above all, I hope to be a good teammate this season. You can only play well if there is an interaction between you and your teammates. I hope I'm able to contribute to a successful and fun season."
The Bears will head into the fall campaign with plenty of momentum. Cal finished the spring season with a record of 5-6, but the Bears capped the season with a three-match winning streak on the east coast that culminated with goalie Cato Knipping earning AE Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Although Cal just barely missed qualifying for the AE Conference Tournament, the winning streak created a strong sense of optimism and confidence for the fall.
"We kept believing in ourselves and showing what this team is capable of, which will have a positive impact on the momentum for the fall season," de Bruijne said. "We have so much potential, and that wasn't always visible last season. We often lost partly because we were all still getting to know each other's way of playing. For the upcoming season, our team has continued to show our dedication and commitment to the team, which will hopefully translate into a successful season."
Another boost towards the Bears hopes of a strong campaign is the return of a familiar face to the program.
Former Cal standout and current U.S. National Development Team member Katrina Carter returns as an assistant coach this fall. Carter is familiar with a lot of the current Bears as she last donned the Blue and Gold as a student-athlete in 2019.
"I am very excited to have Katrina returning to the program," Cleat said. "I have played with her for three years and she was a great attribute to the team during those seasons. Playing for the U.S. Development Team is an amazing achievement and means she plays at a very high level. She will bring great experience as an assistant coach. It will be good to have an assistant coach who already knows our program and what it is like to play at Cal. That will give her a good connection with us."
The season opener is slated for a meeting with Stanford on Friday, Aug. 27, at 6 p.m. from Stanford. The home opener at Underhill Field will be two days later on Sunday, Aug. 29, at noon against Liberty.