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Golden Medals: Cal Athletics winter/spring superlatives

Time to hand out my fictional internet “medals” to the best of Cal Athletes during the winter/spring season

Swimming: Arena Pro Swim Series
Ryan Murphy is the Cal Male Athlete of the winter/spring season
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Alas, the 2016-17 school year is almost finally over for Cal Athletics (technically, it will be over tomorrow after Cal Track and Field’s Ashley Anderson competes in the women’s triple jump from the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship). Emulating what I did for the fall seasons, here are the winner of the “Golden Medals” (and Silver and Bronze) for the winter/spring seasons.

Best Team

Gold: Cal Rugby

This is an easy one. When you win both national championships that you can win, that’s got to be the team of the season.

For the second consecutive year, Cal Rugby won both the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup and the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship. In the Varsity Cup, collegiate rugby 15s national championship, Golden Bears defeated Arkansas State 43-13 in the final, after rolling through Clemson 71-7 in the quarterfinal and Penn State 35-14 in the semifinal.

In the CRC, collegiate rugby 7s national championship, Golden Bears defeated Life 19-0 in the final, after beating Kutztown and 19-10 in the quarterfinal and Indiana 29-14 in the semifinal.

Sure, the Bears did not go undefeated in the 15s season, failing to win back the “World Cup” from North American rival in the University of British Columbia. Bears also blew a home match to East Bay rival Saint Mary’s. Nonetheless, Cal Rugby won the national championships (32nd and 33rd in program history - 96th and 97th in Cal Athletics history) when it counted.

Bears were also able to win the CRC despite the horrific paralysis suffered by teammate Robert Payler in the Varsity Cup final.


Silver: Cal Swimming

Yes, it’s a cheat to basically lump the two highly successful Cal Swimming (and Diving) programs together here - there are 4 of the 30 Cal sports although they just compete for two national championships.

Both Cal women’s and men’s swimming and diving managed to place 2nd as a team at the 2017 NCAA national championships from Indianapolis (that was fun two week trip for yours truly). The Cal women, featuring half a dozen Calympians, took 2nd place behind rival Stanford (and their Olympians such as Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel).

Overall, Cal Women’s Swimming claimed 6 NCAA titles - 200 Free Relay - Abbey Weitzeil, Maddie Murphy, Amy Bilquist, Farida Osman; 1:25.59 (NCAA Record), 200 Medley Relay - Kathleen Baker, Abbey Weitzeil, Noemie Thomas, Farida Osman; 1:34.10 (NCAA Record), 100 Fly - Farida Osman; 50.05 (Pool Record), and 3 from Kathleen Baker in 200 IM, 100 Back, and 200 Back.

For the Cal men, they challenged Texas for the national title, but also had to settle for 2nd place. Golden Bears also claimed two national titles - both by Ryan Murphy in the two backstroke races.

Bronze: Cal Women’s Crew

Another Cal squad that came close to a national championship was Cal Women’s Crew - who won the NCAA title last year. Bears met a historically dominant squad in Washington (1st school to sweep all three races) at the NCAA this year to place 2nd (despite Cal varsity 8 boat beating Washington in a dual earlier in the year).

From Laker Mercer in New Jersey, the three Cal boats placed 2nd (Varsity 4), 2nd (2nd Varsity 8), and 3rd (Varsity 8) for a combined team 2nd place. Washington’s victory turned out to be the 500th NCAA team national championships for the Pac-12 Conference (cue Bill Walton saying “Conference of Champions”).

*Astute Golden Medals reader would notice that I have actually went to the championships of all of the teams mentioned above. Hey, I tried my best to try to bring some good mojo for swimming and crew but it was not enough.

Honorable Mention:

Cal Softball

Cal softball are perennial entrants to the NCAA postseason, 2017 was no exception. Bears were sunk by an unfortunate bad call at the plate in their first game against host Auburn which dropped them to the loser’s bracket.

In the end, the Bears beat Notre Dame twice but lost to Auburn twice to end their season once again in the state of Alabama (Bears were in the Tuscaloosa Regional in 2016).

Cal Women’s Water Polo

New head coach Coralie Simmons brought the Golden Bears back to the NCAA Championships. Since the NCAA field had expanded to more than just 2 at-large bids in 2014, Golden Bears have also made the tournament in both 2014 and 2015. During the season, Bears appeared to be closing the gap behind the top 3 schools of Stanford, USC, and UCLA.

Bears lost 14-11 to UCLA in the national semifinal. Cal will have to wait for that elusive 1st NCAA championship. Stanford ends up beating UCLA in the final for the national championship that put the two school in a first place tie for the most NCAA title.

Male Athlete

Gold: Ryan Murphy (Swimming)

Ryan Murphy capped his collegiate swimming career with two more backstroke NCAA titles. He won the 100 Back: 43.99 (Pool Record) and 200 Back: 1:36.75 (Pool record) to sweep both races for all 4 years of his collegiate swimming eligibility.

The record breaking superstar Calympian will attempt to be the first man to dominate the backstroke in two consecutive Olympics, after making a name for himself at the international scene in the Rio 2016 Games, as he transition into his pro swimming career while still training at Cal.

By the way, Murph, a business major at Haas, is super proud of his academic achievement as well. He was named the Pac-12 Swimming Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He was also named to the Academic All-America First Team.

Silver: Collin Morikawa (Golf)

Despite many of his teammates taking a sabbatical to focus on their academic (to get into Haas), sophomore Collin Morikawa decided that he can balance the school work (he’s also applying to Haas) and golf to put up one of the most consistent season in Cal Men’s Golf history.

In addition to winning his first tournament this year (ASU Thunderbird Invitational in March), Morikawa also made his first college playoff in the tournament prior (Southern Highlands Collegiate). He finished in the top-10 in 8 of 10 stroke-play events before the NCAA Regional and had a 69.93 stroke average that was 5th in the country. He earned the No.2 ranking in Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking.

Bronze: Tie - Peter Simon and Ashtyn Davis (Track and Field)

The two Cal Track and Field star both won the Pac-12 titles.

Hungarian junior Peter Simon became the first Cal shot put champion since 1981. He had a career best to win the Pac-12. He had his career 2nd best to claim 7th place at the NCAA few days ago.

Ashtyn Davis, who also plays defensive back for Cal Football, was undefeated in the 110m hurdles through the Pac-12 championships. Unfortunately, Davis’ streak was snapped at the NCAA Regional and his 13th overall finish was just one spot outside a berth to the NCAA Championships.

Honorable Mentions:

Russell Webb (Rugby)

5th year senior Russell Webb captained Cal Rugby to the two national titles. He was the top scorer for the Golden Bears in both the 15s and the 7s as the primary conversion kickers in addition to scoring a ton of tries.

Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk (Crew)

The Polish Calympian was named Pac-12 Rower of the Year for the 2nd consecutive year. Although he and the Cal Varsity 8 boat had a disappointing 5th place finish at the IRA Championship, the Cal boat was ranked No.1 all year long before placing 2nd behind Washington at the Pac-12.

Ivan Rabb (Basketball)

I wasn’t sure whether I should include the more higher profiled basketball players, but decided that I should. Ivan Rabb may not have helped his NBA Draft Stock by staying an extra year, but his game definitely improved in his sophomore campaign.

Female Athlete

Gold: Kathleen Baker (Swimming)

The sophomore Calympian build upon her Rio 2016 Olympic Games success (Silver in 100m Back, Gold in 4x100 Medley Relay) with three NCAA titles in 2017.

In addition to dominating the two backstroke events 100 Back and 200 Back, Baker also won the 200 IM - 1:51.69 (Pool Record). Baker also set a new NCAA record for 100 Back in the 400 Medley Relay (one that the Cal DQ’ed later in the race) and help the Bears to the 200 Medley Relay national title (which was another NCAA record).

She earned the Swimmer of the Year honor over Stanford’s Katie Ledecky (who shared one of her 3 NCAA title in a tie with another swimmer).

Silver: Kristine Anigwe (Basketball)

Kristine Anigwe had another very strong season for Cal Women’s Basketball. Anigwe averaged nearly a double-double with 21 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Cal Women’s Basketball made a somewhat surprising NCAA appearance before falling to host Baylor in the Round of 32.

Bronze: Dora Antal (Water Polo)

Hungarian Calympian Dora Antal again led Cal Women’s Water Polo in scoring. In 25 games, Antal scored 53 goals. After taking 2016 off (redshirt season) to help Hungary qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics, the 2x Olympians returned to Berkeley and picked up where she left off; Antal also lead the Bears in scoring in 2014 and 2015.

Antal was named to the ACWPC All-American First Team. She is the first 3x First Team All-American in Cal history.

Honorable Mentions:

Desiree Palomares (Gymnastics)

The Cal senior made NCAA Championship as an individual for the balance beam. This extend Cal’s streak of having representation at the NCAA Championship for the 3rd straight year (Toni-Ann Williams made it as an All-Around individual in 2015, the whole team made it in 2016).

Even with star Toni-Ann Williams out due to a season ending injury early on the year, Cal Women’s Gymnastics still managed to score a program best 196.300 points at the Fayetteville Regional. Unfortunately, they missed out on advancing as a team.

Palomares’ 9.90 perfomance (see below) was good enough to win that event at the Regional and allow her to compete at the NCAA. She posted a 9.80 at the NCAA Championship.

Karla Popovic (Tennis)

The Cal Croatian junior took big step toward being one of the best player in college tennis this past season. She stepped up and played as Cal’s No.1 when Maegan Manasse was being held out due to an injury.

For the year, Popovic was 7-2 as the No.1, 9-2 as the No.2 and went 22-1 in individual tournament play. Popovic was ranked 15th in the country in the end of the season poll.

Jena Fritts (Lacrosse)

The Cal senior attacker was by far the statistical leader on the squad. She has a team high 46 goals and 17 assists to help Cal Lacrosse to win one more game in 2017 than in 2016. Firtts (no.4 below) was named to the All-MPSF 2nd team (teammate junior defender Meredith Haggerty was named to the 1st team - I certainly didn’t watch enough Cal Lacrosse or understand the game well enough to appreciate her effort fully).

Best Newcomer:

Gold: Andrew Vaughn (Baseball)

On a Cal Baseball squad with essentially all newcomers, Cal freshman Andrew Vaughn had one of the best season for any Golden Bears in history, not just compared to other Cal freshman. The Cal first baseman and sometimes pitcher tied for the Pac-12 lead in homer with 12 and slashed a very robust 0.349/0.414/0.555 to go with 50 RBI.

Very deservedly, Andrew Vaughn was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. He would have had a stronger Player of the Year consideration if the team had performed better.

MLB rule means that Vaughn is not draft eligible this year. Cal Baseball fans will be interested to see how much Andrew Vaughn can improve in his sophomore campaign. Vaughn will play with USA Baseball for the summer.

Silver: Zoe Conley (Softball)

The Berkeley native was the new found ace for Cal Softball in 2017. A transfer from CSUN, Conley immediately became the go-to pitcher for the Golden Bears. She was 20-14 with 3 saves on the year to go with an ERA of 2.67. The sophomore has two more years of eligibility for the Bears.

Bronze: Emily Wright (Water Polo)

The Canadian newcomer was 2nd in goals for the Cal squad that lost Spanish Calympian Roser Tarrago to an early season injury. Wright scored 40 goals in 25 games. She is playing with team Canada this summer in the World League Super Final.

Wright earned All-American Honorable Mention honor.

Honorable Mentions:

Maya Jansen (Women’s Tennis)

The graduate transfer from Alabama paired with Maegan Manasse to be the Bears’ top doubles pair in 2017. Jansen had won two NCAA doubles title from her Crimson Tide days but her run with Manasse ended in the semifinal. Jansen and Manasse were ranked 11th in the country at the end of the season.

Jansen also played as the Cal No.5 in singles.

Charlie Moore (Men’s Basketball)

I am in the legion of Cal fans who are deeply disappointed by Charlie Bucket’s transfer from the program to Kansas after Cuonzo Martin had been lured away to Missouri.

Did I leave someone out? It was certainly tougher to pick certain categories than other. Please let me know in the comments section below.