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Golden Medals: Gymnastics, Rugby, and Women's Water Polo season previews

Several Cal winter sports officially kick off their seasons in these next two weeks. Let's take some quick looks at them.

Cal Women's Gymnastics Facebook

As the Winter/Spring 2016 semester is about to start, several Cal sports are gearing up to officially kick off their seasons in these next two weeks. Let's take a look at how they fared in the last year, and what Cal fans should expect for the 2016 seasons.

Cal Women's Gymnastics

2015 season recap: Back in the postseason for the 3rd consecutive year, the team just fell short of advancing into the NCAA championship with a 3rd place finish at the Regional, however super frosh Toni Ann Williams made the NCAA tournament as an individual.

Who's Back: Just about the entire team, lead by 2015 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in Williams and 2nd teamer Charlie Owens. Bears have transitioned from a young team to a veteran squad in 2016. Several freshman, like the Seilnacht twin sisters in Sofie and Sylvie, Chelsea Shu, and another Howe in Emily - younger sister to junior Jessica, are expected to contribute in their first year on the squad.

Preseason ranking: 14th in the country, picked to finish 5th in the Pac.

My bold prediction: One of the most fun team to follow in recent years, Cal Women's Gymnastics will attempt to continue trending up into possible national title contender territory. With the improvement of the team's profile and recruits, I think the Bears will take that next step and find a way to advance to the NCAA championship as a team, even if this year's regional is not in Berkeley.

Key dates in schedule: Season opener is the NorCal Classic on Sunday, January 10th in San Jose. Pac-12 Championship is on March 19th. NCAA Regional is on April 2nd while NCAA Championship is on April 15th from Fort Worth, TX.

Bears will be on the Pac-12 Networks for 4 meets plus the Pac-12 Championship.

Cal Men's Gymnastics

2015 season recap: Bears made it to the NCAA Championship and finished 5th in the country. Kevin Wolting earned all-american honor in all around, floor exercise, and vault. Also earning all-american honor were Ryan Patterson and Kyle Zemeir.

Who's back: How about the entire team? All the key athletes last season were all juniors last years. They will get one more year to reach new height in 2016.

Preseason ranking: No ranking is released yet for 2016

My bold prediction: Anything short of a return trip to the NCAA would be considered a disappointment. Another top 5 finish in the country with quite a few more All-American honors should be the floor of this squad.

Key dates in schedule: Bears open the year with the Big Meet at Stanford on Monday, January 11th, which will be broadcasted on the Pac-12 Networks. MPSF championship is on April 2nd at Stanford.

Cal Rugby

2015 season recap: Bears lost in the Varsity Cup championship to BYU for the 3rd straight year. BYU edged the Bears 30-27 in the final. Will this be the first year that the Bears can win the Varsity Cup?

Who's back: Yes, former captain Jake Anderson has graduated, but the great Cal Rugby pipeline continues and the Bears will again be a national title contender.

My bold prediction: It will likely be Bears vs. BYU Cougars in the Varsity Cup final yet again in 2016. Two out of the three Varsity Cup finals have been so close (within 3 points) that I expect 2016 to be another tight one. Yes, I'm purposely not saying who I think will win.

Key dates in schedule: Bears host University of British Columbia on February 6th (match is on the Pac-12 Networks). Varsity Cup final is scheduled for May 7th.

Bears will open the year at the Dennis Storer Classic down in LA. Yours truly might actually be able to attend one of these early Saturday match that day.

Cal Women's Water Polo

2015 season recap: Bears had their best season in quite some time in 2015. Bears lost to UCLA in the semifinal and then got edged by USC in the NCAA 3rd place match.

Who's back: A relatively new team will be on display in 2016 for the Bears as our key players (Dora Antal, Roser Tarrago and Anna Illes) are all taking a sabbatical to train with their national teams in preparation for Rio 2016. I suspect the Bears are not the only team with this problem though. Cal star goalkeeper Madeline Trabucco is back and she is surrounded by plenty of talented players who will use the absence of Antal, Tarrago, and Illes to make their names more prominent.

Preseason ranking: Bears are picked 4th in the preseason coaches' poll.

My bold prediction: Hard to say how the Bears will do in 2016, I suspect the Bears can still be a top 4 team and make the NCAA tournament again. For what its worth, the Bears did defeat defending champs in UCLA in a fall tournament.