Cal softball last played a game 271 days ago. Since then, 4.22 billion people are now fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 vaccine, Olivia Rodrigo became a household name following the release of her album, “Sour,” and the LA Dodgers trounced the SF Giants in the two rivals’ first-ever postseason duel.
In other words, the world has changed for the better. Come Friday, the once 17-20 Bears aim to ride the wave of success through their 2022 season opener at the Easton Classic. Over the weekend, they’ll face the likes of San Diego, Dixie State, Ole Miss, Cal State Fullerton and Colorado State on the road.
Starting 2021 off with 11 wins in its first 15 games, Cal softball seemed to be in good shape –– until conference play commenced. After finishing second-to-last in the Pac-12 by the end of all of it, including a final 0-4 series loss against Oregon, the Bears have a lot of ground to make up.
But they ought to remain optimistic.
Entering her second season at the helm of the program, Chelsea Spencer is just getting started. She may be relatively new to the head coaching scene, but the former Cal softball shortstop knows a thing or two about recipes for success.
A player on the team in the early 2000s, Spencer played a crucial role in helping bring an NCAA title back to Berkeley. With 277 consecutive starts, she was named an NFCA All-American her junior year while boasting a 0.326 batting average. For five years after her collegiate career, Spencer then went on to play professionally for the Philadelphia Force.
As such, current players on the team can see a lot of themselves in their own coach. Look for junior catcher Makena Smith and sophomore pitcher Sona Halajian, the two leaders in RBIs last season, to get the ball rolling right off the bat. Smith, a dual athlete who plays goalkeeper for the Cal women’s soccer team, posted eight home runs and an impressive slugging percentage of 57.3% in 2021.
Not to mention, Spencer’s recruiting also sets a strong foundation for Cal’s future –– notably, four incoming Bears in Tianna Bell, D’Auna Johnson, Elon Butler and Ashanti McDade are all players ranked in the top 50 for their respective class.
The pieces are there. But Cal is not the only team in its conference loaded with talent. Of the top 25 NCAA Division I softball teams ranked in a preseason poll, four Pac-12 foes are ranked –– UCLA, Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State. Notably, softball’s “Pac-12” only consists of nine total teams. Should the Bears reach even just the top third of the pack, they’ll have to rack up upset wins. The Easton Classic is a good start.
Though the team has a while to go before entering conference play, Cal softball has a chance to restart its late-season woes, and perhaps change the narrative for the better.