With a full slate of 30 teams, Cal Athletics have programs in various state of competitiveness and more importantly directions in which they are trending. It is time to take a look at how all of the Cal programs are doing and the health of each program, according to the opinion of just one blogger (confession, I am probably one of the more optimistic Cal fan).
Let’s start with the top tier of teams, the healthiest of the Cal Athletics programs.
Perennial national championship contenders
Cal Rugby (won both 15s and 7s national championship) - steady
Coming off back-to-back years of winning both the 15s (Varsity Cup) and 7s (Collegiate Rugby Championship) national championships, Cal Rugby is the gold standard program of Cal Athletics. Even though the Bears will greatly miss the leadership of Russell Webb who is graduating, Coach Jack Clark will surely have his squad (a relatively young one in 2017 that has become battle tested) ready to compete for more national championships...and possibly reclaiming the World Cup from the University of British Columbia (who due to Canadian rules are able to fill a much more mature squad in the past few years).
With rugby not being a varsity sports amongst most of Cal’s peers, there will likely be discussion to downgrade Cal Rugby to some special intermediate status between club and varsity in order to not have its athlete count toward Title IX. Chances are, the strong Cal Rugby family will prevent this move from happening.
Cal Men's Swimming (2nd place at the NCAA) - steady
Although superstar Ryan Murphy has exhausted his eligibility in 2017, Cal Men’s Swimming will stay very competitive with the return of Andrew Seliskar and a full season from 2x Singapore Olympian Jack Xie. Coach Dave Durden will continue to attract top talent to Berkeley due to his great track record of producing Olympic Gold medalists. Golden Bears are poised to end Texas’ 3 straight NCAA title in 2018, especially if the Diving program develops as expected.
Cal Women's Swimming (2nd place at the NCAA) - steady
3x NCAA champion Kathleen Baker will be back for the Bears in her junior season along side fellow Calympian in Abbey Weitzeil and likely future Calympians in Amy Bilquist and Katie McLaughlin. While Stanford may be hard to beat if Katie Ledeckey and Simone Manuel don’t turn pro, Cal will stay in the mix and challenge for the national title under coach Teri McKeever, even though she had lost both Natalie Coughlin and Missy Franklin from her pro group to the men’s side in recent years (this is more of a compliment for Durden than a blemish for McKeever, in my opinion).
Cal Men's Water Polo (NCAA champion) - steady
Cal Men’s Water Polo benefited from NCAA home pool advantage to turn a 3rd seed into a national title. Head coach Kirk Everist’s squad contains returning Calympian in Luca Cupido and two other USA national team members in Johnny Hooper and Nicholas Carniglia. Bears will have to replace goalkeeper Lazar Andric, the postseason MVP, but may have even more regular season success in fall of 2017.
Cal Men's Crew (5th place at IRA) - steady
Despite a disappointing 5th place finish at the IRA, Cal Men’s Crew still retain an experience crew that won the 2016 national championship. Golden Bears are a good bet to challenge Washington and Yale for the 2018 title.
Similar to Rugby, Men’s Crew is a sport that is not found in most of the other Pac-12 teams (outside Stanford and Washington). More importantly, Men’s Crew is not governed by the NCAA. Some might try to push this program into that special intermediate level so its athletes won’t count toward Title IX (and Cal may then cut some women’s sports) but the Cal Crew family is also very strong, despite the recent passing of T. Gary Rogers.
Cal Women's Crew (2nd at NCAA) - steady
Coming off a 2nd place at the NCAA, Cal Women’s Crew ran into a Washington squad that transformed from very good to dominant. There is no reason why the 2016 NCAA champs, Cal, could not do the same.
Almost national title contenders
Cal Women's Water Polo (NCAA semifinal) - up
The most likely to move up to that top tier, Cal Women’s Water Polo still needs to show that it can beat a UCLA/USC/Stanford and not just play them very tough. Coach Coralie Simmons will be in her 2nd year in 2018 while getting Calympians Dora Antal, Anna Illes, and Roser Tarrago back for one final year.
Cal Men's Tennis (NCAA Sweet 16) - steady
Men’s Tennis will lose 3 key seniors going into next year, but they are also bringing in the top ranked recruiting class in the country. Bears may not be a national title contender until 2019 but they should remain one of the best program in the country next year. The relatively recent renovation of Hellman Tennis Complex also showed that the Cal Tennis family is quite strong financially to alleviate most fear of the program being on the chopping block.
Cal Women's Tennis (NCAA Sweet 16) - steady
Like Men’s Tennis, Women’s Tennis will lose 3 key seniors. Similar to Men’s Tennis, top recruits will be coming to Berkeley in a reloading year for the program. If coach Augustus is able to bring in another grad transfer like Maya Jansen last year, it might significantly bump up the Bears’ chance at a 2nd team national title after the program won its 1st one at the ITA Indoor national championship in 2016.
Cal Men's Golf (no postseason) - up
With 3 key players back from their sabbatical year to focus on academics, Cal Men’s Golf will be a top contender in 2018. Bears will have 2 to 3 good shot at another national title in the next few years with this core group. Coach Walter Chun, a Cal alum, has been with the program for awhile that I don’t think it matters that 2017-18 will only be his 2nd year in charge.
I would expect Cal Men’s Golf to jump to the top tier in 2017-18.
Annual Postseason participants (but longshots)
Cal Women's Basketball (NCAA 2nd round) - steady
Bears surprised some by making the NCAA tournament before being bounced by Baylor at Baylor in the 2nd round. With superstar Kristin Anigwe back, Coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s squad has the potential to compete for the conference title in 2018.
Cal Softball (NCAA regional) - steady
Coach Diane Ninemire is the winningest coach in all of Cal Athletics history (granted, softball does play more games each year than most other sports). Bears are a few players (one more ace pitcher and some lineup pieces) to return to national title contender status.
Cal Men's Gymnastics (NCAA Qualifier, 3 individuals at NCAA Championship) - steady
Bears may be getting a new head coach, but J.T. Okada has been with the program for awhile as an assistant coach.
Cal Women's Gymnastics (NCAA Regional, 1 individual at NCAA Championship) - up
Calympian Toni-Ann Williams should be back healthy after her season ending achilles injury. At full strength there is no reason why Cal Women’s Gymnastics won’t make a return trip as a team back to the NCAA Championship.
They just jumped up to this level after several years of steady improvements.
Cal Women's Golf (15th place at NCAA championship) - steady
Given the dearth of women’s golf squad and the steady incoming top international players who wants to play for Cal and get a degree, Cal Women’s Golf should continue to make the NCAA championship. Several players would need to take a leap in the offseason for the team to compete for a national title, however.
Cal Women's Soccer (NCAA tournament) - steady
With star goalkeeper Emily Boyd back, Cal Women’s Soccer should again compete for the Pac-12 title and make the NCAA tournament if they can just find more consistency. Freshman Abigail Kim was great in her freshman year, she should make the graduation of Arielle Ship and Ifeoma Onumonu more tolerable for the program in fall of 2017.
Cal Cross Country (men made NCAA as team, women had an individual qualifier) - steady
Bears still have a way to go to catch Colorado, who are perennial distance-running powerhouse, but the program has achieved some consistency in recent years by qualifying the entire men’s squad in consecutive years.
Individual but not quite team success
Cal Track and Field
Two Pac-12 titles showed that the Cal Track and Field Program will likely continue to churn out a few future Calympians. The gap between Cal and powerhouse Oregon is still quite grand, however.
So many Cal teams are getting new coaches...who knows what is going to happen.
Cal Football - ?
Aaron Rodgers has already endorsed Justin Wilcox. We shall see how competitive Cal will be in 2017.
Cal Men's Basketball - ???
Wyking Jones was a surprising choice to replace Cuonzo Martin. I really have next to no expectation for Cal Men’s Basketball in 2017-18.
Cal Volleyball - ??
Bears have a decent recruiting class coming but they need to replace key players in setter, libero, and middle blocker. New head coach Matt McShane’s team may have to wait another year or two before a return trip to the NCAA postseason.
Cal Baseball - ????
Esquer just left. I don’t think the Bears will lose talent like Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in Andrew Vaughn, but it is hard to predict what will happen to the very young Cal Baseball squad in 2018. It depends on who the new head coach will be.
Just went through rebuilding year(s)
Cal Lacrosse - up
Will Cal Lacrosse ever find success akin to what USC has just recently done? If Cal ever find a way to cut a women’s sports, Lacrosse is unfortunately at the top of the list.
Cal Beach Volleyball - up
Beach Volleyball is still a very new sports. For whatever reason, Cal has yet to benefit from finding two way players who will excel both indoor and on the beach (like down at The Farm). Program is finally mature enough that it should be a perennial top 20 team (although like Water Polo only the top 3 teams or so are national title contenders).
Cal Men's Soccer - down
Coach Kevin Grimes has been very good in producing talent for the MLS in recent years but the Bears have underachieved as a team. It doesn’t help that Men’s Soccer was mentioned as being on the chopping block. Grimes’ team always have players who make big improvements in the offseason. The team is due for another good year and the return to the postseason.
New facility -> should be on the rise very soon
Cal just hired coach Derek Stark last year. With the completion of Legends Aquatics Complex, divers no longer need to travel down to Stanford to train on their platforms. Cal send one representative each to the women’s (sophomore Phoebe LaMay) and men’s (freshman Connor Callahan) NCAA swimming and diving championships in 2017. It should be soon that these divers will start to score some points.
Cal Field Hockey
Coach Shellie Onstead’s team finally has a field back in Berkeley. The forgotten team in the Cal Athletics department will likely be protected by their recent lawsuit from being cut in the near future. Maybe in that time, the program can return to being the best field hockey team in the west (and 15th or so best in the country).