It's fall ball season. Hope springs eternal. Everyone is 0-0 and in the hunt for the natty.
As such, we're checking in with programs across the country and divisions to see what's happening. Next on the docket is Division I Cal and the Golden Bears’ head coach, Ned Webster.
Cal played three of the final four teams last spring, going 2-1 against them – including a 15-12 road win over the eventual champion Concordia. As you assess 2023, what were some of the pivotal points of the season?
Ned Webster: To properly assess 2023, it's helpful to contextualize the impact of COVID. We competed in the 2019 championship game, and we were equipped to return in 2020 and 2021 if not for COVID.
In 2022, we were loaded with talent, but ultimately three one-goal losses prohibited us from being invited to Texas. We graduated a ton of starters and All-Americans in 2022, so last year we were young, inexperienced and dealt with our fair share of injuries that hindered our ability to coalesce.
Our freshmen and sophomore classes are stellar, so it'll be fun to see how this year's team practices and performs, hopefully taking us back to our winning ways.
The WCLL is undoubtedly a power conference – five of the seven teams have played for a national championship at one point in the last 25 years – but only qualified one team for Texas last spring. Is there an avenue for the league to get back to its power status this year and in the future? What does Dominican's loss mean in terms of standings/scheduling?
NW: It simply comes down to winning out-of-conference games. It’s something our teams have succeeded in doing in the past and are certainly capable of doing this year.
Dominican's transition to NCAA DII status doesn't really affect the WCLL in any way other than we have one less team – a local team no less – to compete against in-season. But we certainly wish the Penguins the best of luck.
You had five seniors (eligibility-wise) on the roster last year that was combined with a freshman and sophomore crew of 26 players. How did last year shape a young team and prepare them for ’24?
NW: It's always interesting to see how leaders present themselves. I've been pleasantly surprised by our sophomore class stepping up, using their voices, taking action and ownership of the program, this being our 60th year.
We are fired up and motivated to prove last year was not indicative of Cal men's lacrosse.
What’s the schedule look like? Any big trips or home weekends in store? Anybody ducking you?
NW: We took the redeye to Atlanta last year to play Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, so we're thankful Georgia Tech is returning the gesture. We host Texas, Simon Fraser and Purdue, and we travel to Chapman, USC, Arizona State and another team at ASU (it’s March 24th, if any teams are interested).
When one thinks about the PAC-12, Cal is one of the first institutions that comes to mind. How weird has it been on campus to see the conference break up in the manner it has? It obviously doesn’t impact lacrosse, but is there a sense that some tradition is being lost?
NW: I can't tell you how many calls, texts, emails I've received about the possibility of Cal lacrosse going to the ACC. As a Notre Dame grad with brothers who played at Virginia and North Carolina, it's fun to dream.
The PAC-12 has such a rich history, so disbanding just makes me shake my head. But I like the idea of the Cal brand becoming even more nationally recognized. I believe the future is bright!
[Want to participate in the "Fall Check In" series as a coach or player? Email [email protected] to request your five questions]