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Golden Medals: Best Cal Athletics stories of 2017

Like just about every other website on the Internet at this time of the year, it’s a countdown of the top 10 moments of Cal Olympics Sports in 2017.

Swimming: USA Swimming Phillips 66 National Championships Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

With the year 2017 winding down, it is time to take a look back at all the positive Cal stories from this past year. While I think this is also a roundtable questions for the CGB writers, I will fill this post with my top 10 choices.

To give more attentions to the non-revenue sports, I am not considering the Jared Goff and Jaylen Brown improvements in their 2nd seasons nor Aaron Rodgers late game heroics from NFL and NBA.


10. Cal Baseball’s 1st baseman Andrew Vaughn wins Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honor

An year after having the Pac-12 Player of the Year in Brett Cumberland (now a minor league player in the Atlanta Braves organization), Cal Baseball got another stud in 1st baseman Andrew Vaughn, who also occasional relieves on the mound.

Vaughn hit 12 home runs which is good for 1st in the Pac, in a tie with teammate Denis Karas. The freshman also hit .349 with 76 hits, seven doubles, one triple, 36 runs, 50 RBI, 19 walks to only 24 strikeouts, a slugging percentage of .555, an on-base percentage of .414, and 121 total bases. Those are all very impressive numbers (and top 5 in most categories in the Pac-12). Cal fans will get to enjoy seeing him improve upon that in the Golden Bears uniform in 2018.


9. Cal alum Brandon Morrow stars for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 MLB Postseason

If you watched any game of the thrilling 7 games of the 2017 World Series this year, you have seen Cal alum Brandon Morrow in action. The right handed starter became only the 2nd pitcher in MLB history to appear in all 7 games of the World Series. The highest drafted player ever (5th overall in the 2006 MLB draft, two spots ahead of some guy named Clayton Kershaw) out of Cal, Morrow had struggled with arm injuries and consistency in his career before reinventing himself as a reliever in 2017.

Of course, the Dodgers finished as runner-ups to the Houston Astros. Morrow being overused, particularly his disastrous game 5 outing, by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is partially to blame.

Nevertheless, Morrow became the most prominent Cal alum in a World Series since Allen Craig (3 game winning hits in 2011 for the St. Louis Cardinals, also played in the 2013 World Series). Morrow also raised awareness for athletic achievement from someone with type 1 diabetes.

For his good work this past year, Morrow signed a decent contract (2 years for $22 millions) with the Chicago Cubs, the 2016 World Series winners.


8. Luca Cupido, MPSF Player of the Year, carried Cal Men’s Water Polo to a must win MPSF 3rd Place victory over rival Stanford to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament

One of the more exciting Cal win that I watched this fall has got to be the Cal win over Stanford in the MPSF 3rd place match to book a spot in the NCAA tournament. With 20 seconds to go and one last possession to force a tie, everyone in the aquatics complex knew that Cupido was going to get the ball. Nevertheless, Luca calmly deposited the game tying goal into the cage. In OT, Cupido with just individual effort put the Bears up by two. In the closing seconds of OT, Cupido got the field block on the Stanford’s final attempt to equalize the match.

It was a great sequence of individual effort by the Cal senior and 2016 Rio Calympian to extend his season. Although the team fall short of their goal to repeat as NCAA champs (Cupido’s last minute attempt to tie the match at USC was saved), Cupido has left his mark as one of the best ever to wear that Cal speedo in the storied Cal Men’s Water Polo program.


7. Cal alum Carli Lloyd named USA Volleyball Player of the Year

While Carli Lloyd did get some PT for Team USA in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, she took a backseat as the backup setter to Alisha Glass, Lloyd’s rival from Penn State that starred for the Nittany Lions teams that ended Cal’s season every year during those peak 4 years, including twice in the Final Four. With Alisha Glass retiring from international play this year to have a baby with Josh Childress, a familiar name to Cal fans - Stanford men’s basketball alum who is now playing overseas, Carli Lloyd finally got her chance to shine as the primary setter for Team USA.

Lloyd responded with her best year yet for Team USA to earned the Female Indoor Player of the Year honor. On a roster with just one other Olympian, Lloyd led USA to a Bronze at the FIVB World Grand Prix despite suffering an injury late in the tournament.

Lloyd and Team USA took home the bronze medal at Rio 2016 games. With more experience, Lloyd will look to play an even bigger role for Team USA in their pursuit for gold in the Tokyo 2020 games.


6. Cal alum Alex Morgan finds her mojo for USWNT to win CONCACAF Female Player of the Year honor.

Alex Morgan started the year off by joining the richest Women’s Soccer club team ever in Olympique Lyonnais. Morgan challenged herself to improve on all aspects of her game, particularly in defense. While Morgan eventually earned the play time (that was not guaranteed even for a player of her stature...FIFA video game cover with Leo Messi), hamstring injuries once again hampered Alex Morgan. While Morgan did got to start in the Champions League final, she did not contribute much before having to be subbed off after 17 minutes. Nevertheless, her Lyon side won the most coveted trophy in club soccer. Despite the injuries, Morgan did score 12 goals in 16 matches.

Coming back to the US for her NWSL team, Orlando Pride, Morgan had to wait awhile until she is finally healthy. By the time that she was healthy, Morgan and Marta formed a formidable one-two punch to lead the Pride to the last NWSL playoff spot, where they were eliminated by the eventual champs in Portland Thorns. Of course, there was also that story about Morgan and other soccer friends playing the “around the world” drinking game at EPCOT Center that led to them being ejected from Disney World.

With the USWNT, Morgan had a slow start to the season as the USA placed a disappointing 4th in the SheBelieves Cup at the start of the year against the likes of England, France, and Germany. Sure, coach Ellis was using that tournament to give more PT to younger players, but it was still a rather embarrassing result.

By the end of the year, USWNT had regain its mojo with Alex Morgan leading the way. In the final 8 matches of the season, Morgan scored 7 goals to lead the way. It is this stretch that earned her the CONCACAF Player of the Year honor.

She finished the year with 7 goals in 14 appearances, but those 1 goal per match pace in the 2nd half is much closer to her original prolific scoring ways (before injuries and the improvement of international women’s soccer slowed her down). With 80 international goals and two more big tournaments (at least) in her career, Morgan may just still threaten the all time international goal record held by Abby Wambach at 184 goals...especially if Morgan can continue to score magical goals like this one.


5. Collin Morikawa with one of the best individual season in Cal Men’s Golf history.

Although his buddies on Cal Men’s Golf all decided to take a redshirt year after their sophomore year to focus on the academics, Collin Morikawa believes that the can continue to play golf at a high level while earning his Cal degree in just 4 years. By the time the 2016-17 season was over, Morikawa had one of the best individual season in Cal men’s golf history.

Morikawa won his first individual title of his college career at the ASU tournament. He finished in the top 10 in 8 of the 11 tournaments. His 69.94 stroke average was 6th in the country. He earned an amateur ranking as high as 2nd in the world.

Morikawa capped his incredible year by helping team USA win back the Walker Cup, the amateur version of the Ryder Cup, from England. In the process, Morikawa went a perfect 4-0.

With the return of KK Limbhasut and other talent entering the program, Cal Men’s Golf is one to watch as they look to add to the two tournament and one individual (by Limbhasut) wins from this fall.


4. Farida Osman wins her 1st NCAA individual title in 100 Fly. Wins Bronze at the 50 Fly at the Worlds to make history as the first African women to accomplish that feat.

Despite owning numerous NCAA relay championships entering her senior NCAA championships this past March from Indianapolis (her birthplace as her parents were graduate student in Indy before moving back to Egypt), Farida Osman has yet to win an individual NCAA titles.

Osman capped her final NCAA national championships with the 100 Fly national title.

Of course, Osman also anchored for the Bears in two more relays wins - 200 Free and 200 Medley relay. Osman won the 2017 Tom Hansen medal as the top female athlete at Cal.

After graduating, Osman took the Bronze at the Worlds for the 50 Fly. In doing so, she made history as the first African women to medal at the Worlds Aquatics Championships.

The medal at the Worlds led Osman to earn even more recognition and as a role model for young Arab women in a sports that they are vastly under represented.


3. Kathleen Baker wins 3 NCAA individual titles: 100 Back, 200 Back, 200 IM to outshine Katie Ledecky at the NCAA national championships.

Also having a great 2017 NCAA national championships for Cal Women’s Swimming and Diving was Kathleen Baker. One year after her surprise qualifying at the US Olympics Trials and her Silver medal, Baker builds on that success by winning 3 individual NCAA titles - 100 Back, 200 Back, and the surprising 200 IM.

By winning 3 titles and setting a new record (which came at the opening leg of the 400 medley relay), Baker won the NCAA Most Outstanding Swimmer of the Meet over Stanford’s Katie Ledecky. The Cal junior will look to add to her NCAA national title total in 2018.


2. Ryan Murphy closes Cal career with complete dominance of 100 yard and 200 yard backstroke at the NCAA.

Another backstroker that dominated the NCAA was Ryan Murphy. Murphy completed the four year sweep of both backstroke events by winning his 4th 100 and 200 Back at the 2017 NCAA championships.

While he did not set any new record, Murphy held off some tough competitions to four-peat. There is little doubt that he is one of the best swimmers to ever don the Cal Gold cap. The 3x 2016 Rio Gold medalist (in both 100m and 200m backstroke to go with the 400 medley relay) will look to continue his backstroke dominance through the 2020 Tokyo games.


1. Cal Rugby repeats as both Rugby 15s and 7s collegiate national champions despite the life changing injury to Robert Paylor.

Few things beats winning a team national title. Winning two, particularly after knowing the horrific injury suffered by a teammate on the field of the first one, makes this the top story of 2017.

For the 2nd straight year, Cal Rugby wins both the Varsity Cup (Rugby 15s national championship) and the Collegiate Rugby Championship (Rugby 7s national championship). Golden Bears beat Arkansas State 43-13 to win their 2nd consecutive Varsity Cup. They defeated Life 19-0 to win their 5th straight CRC, after only deciding on the week of the tournament to travel out East coast to defend this title.

Behind the senior leadership of Russell Webb, the Bears were able to repeat as the national champs in both formats of rugby - the traditional rugby union and the 7s format that was used in the Rio 2016 Olympic games.

What made this pair of championships stand out is that the Bears lost their starting lock Robert Paylor to a horrific injury in the opening drive of the Varsity Cup championship final. In what is deemed by head coach Jack Clark as an illegal move by the defender, sophomore Paylor’s neck was twisted in such a reckless way that he became paralyzed. Thanks to the Cal and Rugby communities and his own perseverance, Paylor’s recovery has been steadily going better than expected.

#TryForPaylor Learn More at GoFundMe.com/RobertPaylor

A post shared by Cal Varsity Rugby (@calvarsityrugby) on

Reminder, you can still make more donation to help out the Paylor family with the medical cost through this GoFundMe page.


Did I forget (or undervalued) one of your favorite Cal story from this past year? Please let me know in the comment section below.

HAPPY NEW YEAR AND GO BEARS!