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Golden Medals: Cal Athletics in Golden Age of winning team national championships

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As Cal celebrates National Championships Week, let’s take a closer look at the recent rise in national championships.

Golden Bears winning the 2015 NCAA team championship for women’s swimming and diving
Cal Women’s Swimming and Diving Facebook

Cal Athletics is celebrating National Championship Week this week, culminating with all the 2016-17 school year national champions being honored at the Cal Football game against Weber State on Saturday. For this past year, Golden Bears claimed team national championships in Men’s Water Polo (NCAA), Rugby 15’s (Varsity Cup), and Rugby 7’s (Collegiate Rugby Championship). Despite a surprisingly complete shutout in crew (Bears only managed a bunch of 2nd place finishes), Cal also continued the streak of claiming individual and relay swimming (NCAA) national championships.

Ryan Murphy won both 100 and 200 Back. Kathleen Baker matched the 100 and 200 Back and added the 200 IM. Farida Osman won the 100 Fly. The Cal women also won a pair of relays in the 200 medley relay (Kathleen Baker, Abbey Weitzeil, Noemie Thomas, and Farida Osman) and 200 free relay (Abbey Weitzeil, Maddie Murphy, Amy Bilquist, and Farida Osman).

Yours truly was there in Indianapolis for the swimming wins and in Chester, PA for the Rugby 7’s victory. The two victories that came in the Bay Area (Men’s Water Polo in Berkeley and Rugby 15’s in Santa Clara) were the ones that I missed although I did watch the NCAA webstream live and eventually caught the tape delayed Varsity Cup final.

According to the official Cal Bears dot com page, Cal has now won 97 team national championships, to go with an additional 298 national championships (181 individual national championships, 14 tennis doubles national championships, 46 relay national championships, 54 national champion boats, 3 track relays). Even though this page has been cleaned up recently, I can’t say that I completely trust it. Out of the 46 relay national championships listed, it does not include the 200 free relay win in 2015 by Kaylin Bing, Missy Franklin, Rachel Bootsma, and Farida Osman. They also list the 33 Rugby championships as 31. (Yeah, I need to send them an email about this.) Nevertheless, I’ll use it for my statistical evidences below that Cal Athletics is winning national championships at a fastest rate - a Golden Age - despite financial woes.


I started to write for CGB just before the 2012 Summer Olympics, in the 5 years since, the California Golden Bears have claimed 5 rugby 7’s championships, 2 rugby union championships, 1 men’s crew, 1 men’s water polo, 1 women’s crew, 1 men’s swimming, 1 women’s swimming, and 1 women’s tennis. That is 15 of the 97 team national championships that I have the privilege to write about here (not to mention watch either in person or live online); it is a very nice correlation to the time that I put in to be a Cal fan at this next level.

2012-2017: 15 national championships

In the 5 years before that (fall of 2007 to spring of 2012), Bears won 3 rugby union championships, 3 women’s swimming, 2 men’s swimming, 1 men’s crew, and 1 men’s water polo. This was also the period that saw Cal Volleyball making it to two Final Fours.

2007-2012: 10 national championships

Bears added 2 women’s crew titles, 4 rugby union titles, 2 men’s water polo titles, and 1 men’s golf titles (only one in program history).

2002-2007: 8 national championships

Between 1991 and 2002, you can count on Cal Rugby to win every Rugby 15’s national title. Men’s crew also has a 4 year championship stretch from 1999 to 2002. Men’s Gymnastics won back-to-back NCAA titles in 1997 (previous half decade) and 1998. Bears closed this period with the 1st Cal women’s team NCAA national championship - Cal Softball in 2002.

1997-2002: 11 national championships

5 more Cal Rugby championships to go with 1 men’s water polo and 1 men’s gymnastics.

1992-1997: 7 national championships

This half decade actually saw more men’s water polo championships (4) than rugby (3). Men’s Tennis also added a championship (ITA Indoors rather than NCAA).

1987-1992: 8 national championships

3 Cal Rugby championships and 2 more Men’s Water Polo championships.

1982-1987: 5 national championships

The first 3 Cal Rugby championships are won in this half decade (1st one was 1980). The first 2 Cal men’s swimming championships were won in 1979 and 1980. Bears also won the 1977 crown in men’s water polo. Bears also claimed the 1980 women’s crew championship when this was governed by the National Women’s Rowing Association.

1977-1982: 7 national championships

The first 3 Cal Men’s Water Polo championships were won in this period. 1 men’s crew and 1 men’s gymnastics championships were won.

1972-1977: 5 national championships

1 of 2 Cal Men’s Track and Field championship was won 1970. The first of 4 Men’s Gymnastics championship was won in 1968.

1967-1972: 2 national championships

A solo men’s crew championship in 1964.

1962-1967: 1 national championship

The lone Cal men’s basketball championship was won in 1959; yes, that has happened.. 2 more Cal Men’s Crew titles were claimed in this period.

1957-1962: 3 national championships

Cal Baseball also won their 2nd title in 1957.

1952-1957: 1 national championship

1 Cal Men’s Crew championship in 1949. The first College World Series in 1947 was won by Cal over Yale.

1947-1952: 2 national championships

Maybe World War 2 has something to do with it, but there was no Cal team national championships in this 5 year period.

1942-1947: 0 national championships

The last of the football national championship claimed by Cal was in 1937. 1 men’s crew title in this era.

1937-1942: 2 national championships

2 men’s crew titles in this era.

1932-1937: 2 national championships

2 men’s crew titles in this era.

1927-1932: 2 national championships

The glory days of Cal Football was the 4 straight national titles from 1920 to 1923. Men’s Track and Field won the national championship in 1922. Men’s Tennis also claimed the 1925 national title.

1920-1927: 6 national championships


Clearly, the Golden Bears are winning team national championships at an unprecedentedly pace in this last half of a decade. Other than the fact that this correlates with me writing about all the non-revenue sports on CGB, I think the following factors are the main reasons.

Extra national championship for Cal Rugby to win

With Rugby being reintroduced into the Olympics via the Rugby 7’s format in the 2016 Rio Olympics, the collegeRugby community has added the Collegiate Rugby Championship in the last 8 years. While the Cal Bears fell short of winning the championship in the first three years, they have since added a fall rugby 7’s schedule and won the last 5 CRC from just outside Philly.

Given the long history of the program and the high standard set by head coach Jack Clark, one would expect the Golden Bears to continue to be the favorites to play for both the 15’s and 7’s national titles on an yearly basis.

Women’s sports finally winning championships

Other than the 1980 women’s crew title, Cal women’s (who has been competing for national championships since the 70’s) have not have team successes until the 2000’s (starting with the Cal Softball championships in 2002). Individually, Mary T. Meagher won the Bears’ first female individual championship in 1983 but the Bears were not able to win the national championships in swimming until 2009 - after the dominant career of Natalie Coughlin and Jessica Hardy in the early 2000’s.

Cal Women’s Crew won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2005 and 2006. While they failed to repeat last year, the core of the 2016 NCAA national championship winning team is still around. Given the presence of Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel down at the Farm for women’s swimming, Cal Women’s Crew is my favorite to win a women’s national title in 2017-18.

Since 2002, Cal women have won 9 of the 33 national championships. As numerous women’s program continue to gain steams, I expect the Cal women to start to match or surpass the men in national titles in the next decade.

Cal Aquatics continue to thrive

Cal Aquatics (men’s and women’s swimming and diving and water polo) have been the best Cal NCAA sports (not counting Rugby and Men’s Crew who are governed by non-NCAA entities for “tradition” reasons) for years. Still, the swimming programs have only in recent years found the ability to recruit enough depth to win NCAA team titles, rather than just settling for a top 3 finish.

With both women’s head coach Terri McKeever and men’s head coach Dave Durden being such a big national swimming presences within Team USA, Cal has managed to repeatedly bring in top rated recruiting classes to sustain the swimming dynasties.

With the recent opening of the Legends Aquatics Complex, Cal swimming and diving should begin to benefit from having a much stronger diving programs that can help in the NCAA team scorings. If not for the diving, Cal Men’s Swimming would have won a few more national titles over Texas.

On the water polo side, new women’s head coach Coralie Simmons is expected to tap into the rich USA women’s water polo pipeline. It shouldn’t be long before the Cal Women’s Water Polo hangs their own national championship banner at Spieker’s Aquatics Center.

More sports and more opportunities in recent years

Obviously, Cal Athletics have a much wider set of programs in the 2000’s than in the 1900’s. With more programs and more shots at national championships, it also makes it easier to win more. To be fair, the two newest programs - lacrosse and beach volleyball, have not come close to national titles. Should Cal Athletics find a way to maintain 30 programs, it would be easier to sustain the recent national championships winning rate.


Cal Rugby, Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving, Men’s and Women’s Crew, and Men’s Water Polo should all continue to be perennial threats to win the national titles in their respective sports. Looking forward to the next 5 years (including this school year), I expect these programs to all be in the mix of adding to Cal’s team national championship total:

Cal Men’s Golf - After the lone national title in 2004, Bears had the most dominant program (in stroke play over the course of the year) in NCAA men’s golf history in 2012 only to lose in the match play semifinal. After numerous players simultaneously taking a redshirt last year, Men’s Golf has two year window to win NCAA titles. With the program being financially self-sufficient, Cal Men’s Golf does not have to worry about being cut.

Cal Women’s Water Polo - Golden Bears should start to bridge the gap between them, a clear 4th best program in NCAA women’s water polo history, and the top 3 of Stanford, USC, and UCLA. It might not be this year, with the trio of European Calympians leading the way as redshirt seniors, but it should be soon before the new coaching staff fill the program with future USA Calympians.

Cal Women’s Soccer - Ever since Alex Morgan, Cal Women’s Soccer has recruited at a different level. Nevertheless, the talented teams have fallen short in postseason due to inconsistent plays. Bears can often match the top teams in the country but then find a way to lose 1-0 to a mediocre squad. With the strong recruiting pipeline, I would not be shocked if coach Neil McGuire’s squad make a deep College Cup run and be the latest Pac-12 team to win their first NCAA title in women’s soccer.

Cal Women’s Gymnastics - From being on the chopping block in 2010 to now, no Cal program has improved as much as Cal Women’s Gymnastics. Then again, the top 3-5 squads in the country are still vastly superior than the rest. Golden Bears in 2017 is probably only top 10 good. There is still some way to go from being perennial NCAA championship participant to perennial NCAA championship winning threat.

Cal Women’s Tennis - By all murmurs, Cal Tennis are in a pretty good financial shape. Women’s Tennis has come so agonizing close to win the NCAA championships in recent year but only managed to win the 2016 ITA Indoors title. Even with former No.1 in the country player Maegan Manasse graduating, Bears will replace her with No.1 recruit in Anna Bright. Coach Amanda Augustus’ squad has won their share of NCAA doubles titles and send players to the singles and doubles finals fairly consistently in recent years. Nevertheless, that elusive NCAA team title will hopefully be coming to Berkeley soon. Bears have defeated rival Stanford in regular seasons only to see Stanford win in the crucial NCAA knockout stage en route to NCAA titles. This should change very soon.

Cal Men’s Tennis - While the Cal men’s tennis has not been as consistently good as their women’s counterpart, the men’s squad also brought in a No.1 recruit class in the country. Bears have to replace quite a bit of their lineup in 2017-18, but if this recruiting class does pan out as expected, Cal should be contenders in the next few years.


2017-18 Season Progress Updates:

No.1 Cal Men’s Water Polo (5-0) has started their NCAA title defense with a perfect record. Bears are still finding the golden formula for their defense and goalkeeping in the new year after returning a ton of scoring. Golden Bears will host Pacific at 11 AM PT on Saturday.

Cal Volleyball (5-1) will be playing their first road matches of the year down in Houston. After sweeping the Cal Classic, the Bears will face host Rice, Incarnate Word, and Louisiana Lafayette this weekend.

Also on the road is Cal Field Hockey (1-3). Bears won their first match of the year by upsetting No.22 UMass. This weekend, Cal will take on Bryant and Northeastern in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, respectively.

Bouncing back from their 1st loss of the year, Cal Women’s Soccer (4-1) had a 1-0 win over Long Beach State after their match against Texas was cancelled due to the heat. Bears will visit Sacramento State today for the lone match of the week.

Cal Men’s Soccer (1-2) recorded their first win of the year with an 1-0 victory over Northeastern before falling to Creighton by a 3-0 result. Bears will head up to Oregon to take on Portland this Saturday.

Saving their top runners for later in the month, Cal men’s and women’s Cross Country finished 3rd and 4th, respectively at the USF Invitational last weekend. Freshmen Steven Kahn and Annie Boos lead their respective teams with the 9th and 13th overall finish.

Both Cal Men’s and Women’s Golf will play their first tournaments of the year this weekend. Cal Men’s will be playing in Virginia while the Cal Women’s will be playing in New Mexico.

GO BEARS!