California Strives to Be a Conference Contender in 2013

Defensively, junior goalie Megan McGinnis returns to the cage with a year of experience under her belt after being Cal's starting keeper as a sophomore. McGinnis started all 16 games in 2012, posting a .432 save percentage (131-172) with a goals-against average of 10.91.

"When she's on it's almost impossible to score on Megan," Miles said. "I know she's going to be a rock for us in the cage. She's been working really hard to get to where she needs to be in terms of fitness and mindset. I think there were some sophomore woes. It's a tough position to play, especially as a sophomore. There is so much pressure, but she's going to take the experience she gained last year and really put it to use. She's had a phenomenal first couple of practices. I can't wait to see her stand on her head for us this year."

Supporting McGinnis on defense will be senior defender Sarah Milik and junior defender Grace Parente. Milik is one of the team captains this season along with Takacs.

"Grace has been a steadfast defender for us," Miles said. "She comes with a great amount of confidence, poise and discipline. She isn't afraid of any match-up. We know she's going to do really well for us this year. Sarah has grown in terms of confidence and has really worked hard to make sure her senior year goes as well as it can. She came back a totally different athlete, in much better shape and she's walking in with a ton of confidence. We're going to be a tough team to score on."

One returner Miles said to keep an eye on is sophomore midfielder Gaby Christman. Appearing in all 16 games as a freshman, Christman garnered MPSF All-Tournament honors after scoring three goals against Oregon in the semifinals. Her 26 ground balls on the season tied for the team lead.

"We may see a lot more out of Gaby Christmas this year than we saw last year," Mile said. "She surprised some folks at the end of last year at the MPSF Tournament. I think she'll continue to surprise people. We used her in a defensive role last year, but she's a true middie. I think she's going to grab that bull by the horns. She plays fearless every day."

While Miles is excited to see what all seven of her freshmen can do this year, she pointed to attacker Lizz Lavie as somebody to watch for a breakout season.

"I would expect Lizz to have an immediate impact for us," Miles said. "She works hard every day at practice and she has tremendous fundamentals. She's pretty unflappable. A lot of freshmen can be pretty wide-eyed, but Lizz is as solid as they come. She will take advantage of every opportunity that she gets on the field in whatever role we put her in. We're really excited to have her."

Just as the Bears expect to keep improving, the MPSF conference as a whole is getting stronger and stronger. Oregon comes in as the reigning MPSF champion, while Stanford and Denver will be among the other MPSF title contenders.

The higher level of adversity doesn't faze Miles and the Bears one bit. They welcome the challenge.

"The conference will continue to get stronger each year, but I think we stack up really well," Miles said. "We did well last year and then came just shy of really accomplishing what we wanted to accomplish. This team that we have now has the right mindset to get over that hump. We want more and we expect more of ourselves every day. The top teams in the conference will still be pretty tough competition for us, and we know that we've got new programs nipping at our heels every day. That's going to drive our kids to work harder every day."

Cal opens the 2013 campaign on Thursday, Feb. 21, at James Madison. The Bears' home opener is slated for Tuesday, March 5, against Saint Mary's at 4:00 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

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