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Golden Medals: Cal fall Olympic sports superlatives

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No actual medals are awarded to these student-athletes because we don’t have a sponsor

It’s the end of the year/season, which means the common blog trope of making lists (and checking them twice). Sticking with the “Golden Medals” theme, I will be naming a Gold, Silver, and Bronze recipients for each honor. Please let me know in the comment section if you think I overlooked anyone.


Best Team:

Gold: Cal Men’s Water Polo - NCAA national champions

This one is basically a no-brainer. When you win the national championship, that’s clearly a “Gold Medal” type of performance. Congratulations again to head coach Kirk Everist and his team for winning the program’s 14th overall national title, and the first one of this decade.

Silver: Cal Women’s Soccer - 13th straight NCAA tournament berth

Golden Bears (13-5-3) returned to the NCAA tournament for the 13th straight year. Bears also had a remarkable midseason peak during their LA trip when they nearly defeated UCLA (Bruins equalized in the last minute) and then defeated USC (eventual NCAA champs) 1-0 to put them in the driver seat for the Pac-12 crown.

A few late season hiccups knocked the Bears out of being considered as a host. The Bears ended their season prematurely at Pepperdine in the NCAA 1st round due to penalty kicks.

Bronze: Cal Men’s Cross Country - Back to back NCAA championship berth

For the 2nd consecutive year, the full Cal Men’s Cross Country squad qualified for the NCAA national championship with one of the last spots of the NCAA Regional. Bears finished 31st in the country.


Best Female Athlete

Gold: Cal Women’s Soccer - Emily Boyd

For the 2nd straight season, Cal junior goalkeeper Emily Boyd managed to tie the program record of having 11 shutouts on the season. With the bulk of her defensive line returning with her next year, look for Boyd to finally break that shutout record in her senior year.

Silver: Cal Women’s Soccer- Ifeoma Onumonu

If I have a comeback player category, redshirt senior Ifeoma Onumonu would surely be the winner of that category. Hampered by her injury suffered early on the season two years ago, Onumonu was not quite herself in 2015. Shedding the bulky brace, Onumonu finally returned to the level of play that had won her Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and be named to the Hermann Watch List in her sophomore year. She tallied 10 goals (2nd on the team behind Arielle Ship’s 11) and 3 assists on the year.

Bronze: Cal Women’s Cross Country - Bethan Knights

After missing out on the NCAA women’s championship last year, junior Bethan Knights qualified for the NCAA women’s national championship as an individual for the 2nd time in three years. Knight eventually finished 89th in the country. She had finished 25th in the country back in 2014.


Best Male Athlete

Gold: Cal Men’s Water Polo - Lazar Andric

Cal senior Lazar Andric was the clear emotional leader of the Golden Bears in the pool. The goalkeeper earned the Tournament MVP honor after stopping 16 shots in the semifinal OT win over UCLA and then 14 more shots in the OT win over USC in the championship match.

Silver: Cal Men’s Water Polo - Luca Cupido

The Rio 2016 USA Calympian fulfilled many roles for the Golden Bears. The highlight of his season has got to be this goal though at the end of the 1st OT.

Cupido’s goal put the Bears up by two goals going into the 2nd OT and essentially served as the dagger to the hearts of the USC Trojans.

Bronze: Cal Men’s Soccer - Christian Theirjung

The Cal senior striker led the team with 9 goals, including 3 game winners, to go with 1 assist. Thierjung finished second in the Pac-12 in goals scored, shots per game (3.07), goals per game (0.60), total points (20) and points per game (1.33). He also broke the Cal record for goals in a match when he scored 5 goals in one match against Harvard.


Best Freshman

Gold: Cal Women’s Soccer - Abigail Kim

The top recruit of a talented class, freshman striker Abigail Kim has a nice debut season for the Golden Bears. She earned the starter role early on the year and never relinquished that. She will be a big part of the Cal Women’s Soccer future to replace the graduated Onoumonu and Ship.

Silver: Cal Mens’ Water Polo - Safak Simsek

The Cal freshman lefty attacker from Turkey had a hat trick in the NCAA championship match. For the season, he is 2nd on the team with 34 goals behind sophomore Johnny Hooper (who has 75 goals to lead the conference, if not the country).

Bronze: Cal Volleyball - Bailee Huizenga

With 250 kills (2nd on the team), Huizenga was the top freshman out of many used by Cal Volleyball in their 2016 campaign. Her hitting percentage of 0.208 while not spectacular was amongst the leader on the team. She earned the Opposite role in the preseason and was the only Bears to start every contest this year (Maddy Kerr as the starting libero is technically “not in the starting lineup”).


Best Story

Gold: Savannah Rennie makes his NCAA Volleyball debut < 5 months after liver transplant

In case you missed it, Savannah Rennie’s perseverance to get healthy and eventually debut (and play mostly efficiently) for Cal Volleyball is the heartwarming story of this fall. Thanks to the Cal and Volleyball at large communities, Savannah’s family were able to raise enough funds to cover this unexpected medical cost from a very rare liver disease that required transplant.

Rennie earned her way back in the rotation after making her emotional NCAA debut (the early enrollee has fallen sick last summer just before her first season on the team).

Savannah Rennie puts down her first kill at Cal - less than five months after a liver transplant. What. A. Moment.

A video posted by CalVolleyball (@calvolleyball) on

Rennie ends up with 39 kills in 12 matches played (with 5 starts). The former top recruit should be in the mix for a bigger role next year.

Silver: Cal Field Hockey beats Maine 3-1 without a true goalkeeper

For all that Cal Field Hockey has gone through in recent years, the team has found ways to win no matter the circumstances.

From CalBears.com:

ORONO, Maine – What do you do when your only goalkeeper is out with an injury, and you have to play a key conference game more than 3,000 miles from home?

Cal field hockey's answer: rally.

Despite playing without a "true" goalie, the Golden Bears came together to defeat America East rival Maine, 3-1, Sunday morning at UMaine Field Hockey Complex in Orono, Maine.

"We had to reach in and look each other in the eye and really believe in each other. We were willing to go all in," said head coach Shellie Onstead. "I'm so proud of them. They took it to heart."

Goalkeeper Kori Griswold, who started all 11 games prior to Sunday's contest, was unable to play after sustaining an injury in Saturday's game against Vermont. Freshman keeper Danielle Mentink, the next natural fit in the cage, was home in Berkeley with an injury of her own, leaving no "traditional" goalkeepers on the travel roster.

Enter fifth-year senior Lexi Collins.

Collins was among a handful of Bears who volunteered to step into the cage in Griswold's absence, regardless of the fact that she'd never played goalie before.

"We always say you never know when you're going to need to step up," Onstead said. "I knew Lexi is the kind of kid that will do whatever she's asked to and is pretty darn coachable."

After a quick trip to Walmart to buy some appropriately-fitting goalie gear, Onstead and assistant coaches Austin Pileand Malachi Mahan conducted a goalkeeping clinic for Collins in their hotel on Saturday evening. Collins didn't actually start the game against Maine.

Part of that decision was to try to keep Maine's players off-balance as Cal tried to gain an advantage out of the confusion. Instead, the team played with a kicking back to help create more offensive firepower. Maine scored on a breakaway at 6:15 in the first half, but the Bears quickly evened things up with Emily Catan's first career goal. Catan grabbed a rebound from Nicole Henriksson to make it a 1-1 contest at 12:28.

Unable to capitalize on the lack of an opposing goalie, the Black Bears used their timeout early to reset their gameplan. That's when Onstead sent Collins in.

"Make one save, and your teammates will carry you the rest of the way," Onstead told her.

Wearing Griswold's No. 33 jersey and some makeshift goalie gear, Collins stepped into the cage. She didn't make one save. She made three. Though Onstead only planned to use Collins for a few minutes, clutching the green sub jersey in her hand in case the team needed to make a quick swap. Instead, Collins played the remainder of the game.

Bronze: Legends Aquatics Center opening

To ensure the continuing excellence of Cal Aquatics, the brand new Legends Aquatics Center finally opened this fall. In addition to allowing the numerous Cal Aquatics team to have more flexibilities in their training (so the student-athletes can also have less restrictions on what classes they want to take), the new diving facility will finally allow Cal divers to train in Berkeley (as opposed to bi-weekly trips to Stanford).


A random note, brand new CGB Hall of Fame inductee Missy Franklin will be doing a book signing for her new book, Relentless Spirit (which apparently covers this most recent Olympics and partially explains why she split with Teri McKeever and the Cal Women’s Team to be training with Dave Durden and Cal Men’s Team in her return to Berkeley - I have not had the chance to read it yet nor did I receive a preview copy), in Oakland on Saturday.

The signing info are:

What: Book launch for “Relentless Spirit: The Unconventional Raising of a Champion,” by Missy Franklin and Dick and D.A. Franklin.

When: 3 p.m. Dec. 10

Where: A Great Good Place for Books, 6120 La Salle Ave., Oakland

Information: 510-339-8210 or www.ggpbooks.com

Cost: Free

GO BEARS!