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Golden Medals: Cal Volleyball loses Big Spike and Cal Fall Sports Season Recaps

Season recaps for Cal Volleyball, Men’s and Women’s Soccer, Men’s and Women’s Cross Country, and Field Hockey

Cal Volleyball will conclude their 2017 season on Saturday night with the home Big Spike against rival Stanford
Cal Volleyball Twitter

With Cal Men’s Water Polo gearing up for their NCAA national championship defense in the NCAA championship next weekend as the No.2 overall seed, the rest of the Cal Fall Sports have either ended or will end this weekend (Volleyball ending with the Big Spike). This Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect time to do the season end recaps for these 6 sports. I have even venture to put a grade on these seasons (reminder that this is on the Cal scale rather than after the grade inflation of a private school...interestingly that’s the bulk of my actual TA experience). Let me know in the comments below if you agree.

Cal Volleyball to end 2017 season with home Big Spike

Season Record: 13-17, 4-15 in Pac-12 prior to Big Spike on Saturday night, no postseason

Big Spike Preview:

Cal will honor their 6 seniors before the home Big Spike on Saturday night at 7pm PT.

Bears will look to desperately end the 21 consecutive losing set streak against the top 10 ranked Stanford. In the Pac-12 opening Big Spike at The Farm, Bears were swept 25-20, 25-14, 25-15. Stanford, with a new head coach, has had a bit of an uneven season as the defending NCAA champs. Nevertheless, they are probably one of the best challenger from the Pac-12 to win the NCAA championship over the Big Ten conference teams that have dominated this year.

Team MVP: Antzela Dempi, the senior outside hitter went from a part-time player to the clear star in her final season

Main storyline coming into the season: This is the first season of new head coach Matt McShane.

Season Grade: C. While McShane was an assistant under Feller, he opt to install the 6-2 offense for the Bears in 2017 which requires having two setters. There were even a match or two (and certain rotations) when the Bears opt for no traditional setter, by depending on the all around play of other position players. Nonetheless, the Golden Bears will miss the NCAA tournament yet again by not achieving a winning record.

Looking ahead: Golden Bears will greatly miss the six seniors that include Christina Alftin, a six rotation player for the Bears since her freshman year, Dempi, and Asthen Smith-Gooden, top Cal recruit since Tarah Murray whose Cal career has been derailed by injuries (Smith-Gooden technically has another year of eligibility but may opt to retire from volleyball after finishing her degree).

Nonetheless, plenty of freshmen got valuable experience this year. Outside hitter Mima Mirkovic, middle blocker Preslie Anderson, and setter Isabel Potter all contributed a great deal for the Bears. Even the other freshman setter Jordyn Schuette got some run late in the year in the Bears’ 6-2 offense. Improvements by the main trio of freshman this year may make the Bears a much stronger team next year, although there will be plenty of opportunities for other players on the current roster to step up.

Bears will add a pair of outside hitters next year with Ahrens being ranked in the top 50 in the country. Maybe, the Bears will finally make a return trip to the NCAA tournament in 2018.

Cal Women’s Cross Country

Season Record: Team qualified for the NCAA Championship and placed 22nd in the country.

Team MVP’s: Bethan Knights and Brie Oakley both earned NCAA All-American honor (top 40) for finishing 23rd and 39th, respectively. Oakley also became the first Cal women to be named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

Main storyline coming into the season: Incoming freshman Brie Oakley is one of the best in the country.

Season Grade: A-, with the addition of the No.1 distance running recruit in the country in Brie Oakley, the Golden Bears qualified for the NCAA Cross Country Championship as a team for the first time in six years. Two Bears earned All-American honors (top 40) at the NC while finishing in the top 10 in the NCAA Regional. While this was a fairly great year for the program, Cal was still a distant 4th/5th (similar to Washington) in the Pac behind Colorado, Stanford, and Oregon who were in the top 10.

Looking ahead: Senior Bethan Knights will be gone next year and be greatly missed but one would expect Oakley, who was the 2nd fastest freshman at the NCAA, to be even stronger. Rest of the Cal teams will be back with Marissa Williams and Jordyn Colter, Cal’s next two best finishers, being seniors.

Bears will also add Sydney Vandegrift to the group. The Elk Grove, CA native have made 4 straight CIF Cross Country Championships in her high school career.

Barring injuries or transfers out, Golden Bears should be able to return the whole team to the NCAA Championships with an even more competitive finish for Oakley.

Cal Men’s Cross Country

Season Record: Team finished 9th in the NCAA West Regional, only two runners qualified as individual

Team MVP: A pair of seniors Trent Brendel and Garrett Corcoran qualified for the NCAA Championships as individuals. Corcoran and Brendel finished 140th and 165th in the country, respectively.

Season Grade: B, after losing the top distance runner on the team in Robert Brandt via transfer to UCLA, it is perhaps not a surprise that the men’s cross country team missed out on the NCAA championship this year (Bears finished 39th in 2016 with Brandt taking 109th place). Interestingly, Brendel did not run in the NCAA last year. Nonetheless, the Bears still managed to send two runners to the NCAA - just one other strong runner short of qualifying the whole team of 6.

Looking ahead: Unless numerous Cal Bears made a significant stride this offseason, it’s hard to foresee the Bears returning to the NCAA as a team since the two top finishers this year were seniors. Nonetheless, I would not be shocked if the Bears can continue the streak of sending at least an individual to the NCAA.

Cal Men’s Soccer

Season Record: 11-7, 6-4 in Pac-12, Knocked out in NCAA 1st round

Team MVP’s: Redshirt senior Jose Carrera-Garcia (4 goals, 9 assists) and sophomore goalkeeper Drake Callender (79 saves, 6 shutouts) are the two best players for the Bears on the field and in goal, respectively. Both were named to the Pac-12 First Team.

Main storyline coming into the season: With the team being mentioned as a candidate to be cut for budget reason, can the Bears have a winning record and return to the postseason?

Season Grade: A-, Bears returned to the NCAA postseason for the first time in 4 years. Although the Bears cannot challenge the top 10 ranked rival Stanford in the two matches, they managed to sweep both matches against UCLA this year. An year after being on the wrong side of one goal losses, Bears manage to beat most opponents by just a goal in 2017.

Looking ahead: Keeper Drake Callender will be a junior next year, but the Bears will need to find another playmaker and emotional leader to replace Jose Carrera-Garcia. Cal Men’s Soccer has been rather cyclical in recent years by alternating between a winning and losing seasons (unfortunately for the Bears, a winning season was still not enough to make the NCAA back in 2015). Maybe the Bears can buck that trend and return to the postseason. Head coach Kevin Grimes have always produce players who improve tremendously year-to-year. Who will step up in 2018?

Cal Women’s Soccer

Season Record: 13-6-1, 6-4-1 in Pac-12, Knocked out in NCAA 1st round

Team MVP: Senior goalkeeper Emily Boyd, the 1st Cal Bear to earn Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year honor

Main storyline coming into the season: With this being the last year for Emily Boyd and some other key seniors, can the Bears finally make a deep run in the postseason.

Season Grade: B, as expected, the Bears extended their NCAA streak but got eliminated in the first round yet again. Bears had a weird match in the first round in that they lost senior center back Indigo Gibson to a red card in the 3rd minute. As much as the Bears fought hard to stay in this one despite being a woman down, they were eliminated by Santa Clara via a 2-1 result. While the Bears avoided upset losses in conference play, they still lost 1-0 to UCLA, USC, and Stanford.

Looking ahead: Forward Abi Kim will be a junior next year. Head coach Neil McGuire will also reload the team with more talent. Nonetheless, the team might take a step back in replacing Boyd, Fitzgerald, Gibson, etc. next year. Bears should return to the NCAA but might not just lose to the other California Pac-12 and top 10 ranked schools by just an 1-0 result.

Cal Field Hockey

Season Record: 9-8, 4-2 in America East (Co-West Division champ)

Team MVPs: Freshman Megan Rodgers scored 17 goals to lead the Bears. Sophomore Femke Delissen may not jump out as much on the box score, but she was the key playmaker for the Bears (and had a team high 9 assists).

Main storyline coming into the season: Underhill Field is finally complete with stands and locker facility. It’s no longer “Bring Your Own Chair” (which was still better than two years of playing home matches at Stanford).

Season Grade: A, thanks to a big home 4-2 win over rival Stanford (then ranked 14th in the country), Golden Bears earned a share of the conference divisional crown. Bears developed a lot of young players who should keep the team playing at this high level (if not significant better) for the next couple of years. Facing some top 10 ranked teams (Syracuse, Penn State), Golden Bears were very competitive for the majority of those matches.

Looking ahead: Since most of the key contributors this year (freshman Megan Rodgers, juniors Melina Moore and Janaye Sakkas, sophomores Femke Delissen and Danielle Mentink - keeper) will return next year, the expectation for Cal Field Hockey next year is rather high. Cal can replace Pacific as the 2nd ranked team in the West after Stanford. Maybe the Bears can even surpass Stanford and earn the lone automatic bid from the conference into the postseason.