With the 2017-18 school year finally over for Cal Athletics, it’s time to award some virtual “Golden Medals” to the best Olympic sports athletes/teams/stories of the Winter/Spring season.
By the way, my pick for the best Cal male athlete of the Fall 2017 season, Cal Men’s Water Polo’s Luca Cupido, was just recently named the Cutino Award winner as the best male College Water Polo player in the country. Pete Cutino, of course, is the legendary former head coach of Cal men’s water polo. Cupido becomes only the 3rd Golden Bears to win this award following his Team USA Calympian teammate in John Mann in 2005 and Ivan Rackov in 2009.
Luca Cupido of @CalWaterPolo is the 3rd Golden Bear to win a Cupido award; Amanda Longan of @USCWaterPolo is the 14th Trojan Cupido winner—most in history! #waterpolo #CutinoAward #CalBears #USCTrojans #swimmingworld pic.twitter.com/o9C4VZjp53— Michael Randazzo (@randazzma) June 3, 2018
Cupido led the Cal Bears to the 2016 NCAA team championship, but played even better in the 2017 season when the Golden Bears were edged in the semifinal by host USC. While his Cal career concluded last fall, Cal fans will likely be rooting for Cupido comes the 2020 Tokyo Olympics games as he is poised to be a big part of Team USA yet again. Congrats to Luca on the special honor.
With the Award season not quite over yet, might one of my Winter/Fall pick be able to match Cupido by winning the top honor in his sports?
Best Male Athletes:
Gold - Tie between Andrew Vaughn, Cal Baseball and Colin Morikawa, Cal Men’s Golf
Two Cal Athletes were nominated to the shortlist of being finalist in their respective sports’ top honor. Cal Baseball’s sophomore 1st baseman Andrew Vaughn is one of 4 player named to the Golden Spike Finalist list. That award has yet to be announced.
And, @andrewvaughn37 continues to make history in a Cal uniform...— Cal Baseball (@CalBaseball) June 13, 2018
He becomes the first Golden Bear ever to earn National Player of the Year as @PGCollegeBall names him best in all the land!
Read about it: https://t.co/SXYmzQD4th#GoBears #VoteForVaughn pic.twitter.com/LvIAmSqZJ3
Cal Men’s Golf junior Collin Morikawa was named one of 3 finalist for the prestigious Ben Hogan award, which eventually went to a Texas golfer in senior Doug Ghim.
Andrew Vaughn tied the Cal single season homerun record of 23 and maintained a video game like slash line of >0.400 BA, >0.530 OBP, >0.810 SLG percentage all year long.
Collin Morikawa build upon his very successful sophomore year to be the No.1 ranked amateur player in the world.
Yes, it’s kind of a cop out, but I have got to name them co-Male Athlete of the season. The most exciting thing for Cal fans may be that both guys will be back next year to achieve even more in their collegiate career.
Bronze - Andrew Seliskar, Cal Men’s Swimming
Junior Andrew Seliskar led the Cal Bears to another 2nd place finish at the NCAA behind Texas Longhorns (and their super diving) in 2018. Although Seliskar is still waiting to win his first NCAA individual title, he did finish 2nd in 200 Breast (his first year swimming this event instead of the 200 Fly), 3rd in 400 IM, and 5th in 200 IM. He also had big contributions on the various Cal relays.
Prior to the NCAA, Seliskar also had a big Pac-12 Championships, including setting a brand new 400 IM Pac-12 Championship record, in helping the Golden Bears to win the conference title over rival Stanford.
Best Female Athletes:
Gold - Kathleen Baker, Cal Women’s Swimming
On an year that lacked national championships, both team and individual, for Cal Athletics overall, Kathleen Baker winning the 200 Back was enough to earn her the top honor.
In 2017, Baker actually was the Swimmer of the NCAA meet over Katie Ledecky when she won 3 NCAA titles in 100 Back, 200 Back, and 200 IM. In 2018, she was only able to defend the 200 Back title. Nonetheless, she further cemented her place as the next great Cal backstroker. The 2016 Rio Game Calympian and 200m Backer silver medalist will be in the mix to win more medals in 2020 Tokyo.
Silver - Toni-Ann Williams, Cal Women’s Gymnastics
Back from an achilles rupture that ended her junior season early and took 9+ months to rehab, Calympian Toni-Ann Williams was back to full strength to lead the Cal Women’s Gymnastics to even greater height in 2018 (see my top moment list below).
She earned All-American honor at the NCAA Championships and has been granted a 5th year of eligibility in 2019.
Bronze - Dora Antal, Cal Women’s Water Polo
Another Calympian on the list, Hungarian native Dora Antal became Cal Women Water Polo’s all time leading scorer in her senior year. For the 4th time in her career, she was the top scorer for the Golden Bears.
Antal and the Golden Bears were serious NCAA title contender in 2018, maintaining the No.1 ranking for several weeks after Cal upset Stanford. “Dodo” also became just the 3rd women ever to be named to the All-American First Team for all four years of her career.
Honorable Mention - Marthe Wold, Cal Women’s Golf
Senior Marthe Wold concluded her Cal career with a trip to the NCAA Championship as an individual.
Views from her final tournament!— Cal Women's Golf (@CalWGolf) May 21, 2018
Thanks Marthe! pic.twitter.com/aKrPPREInt
Gold - Kamalani Dung, Cal Softball
A transfer from Fresno State, Kamalani Dung established herself as the Cal Softball co-ace along with Zoe Conley to lead the Golden Bears to another postseason berth. Dung even threw a perfect game in non-conference against UTEP from her home state of Hawaii.
She finished her first year as a Golden Bears with a 19-5 record and a 1.96 ERA.
Silver - Ryan Hoffer, Cal Men’s Swimming
The top recruit of the top ranked and huge impact class for Cal Men’s Swimming, Hoffer really upped his game for the NCAA championship in his freshman year. Although he did not win any individual or relay championship, Hoffer established himself to be one of the better sprinter in NCAA, especially now that Florida’s Caeleb Dressel has graduated.
Bronze - Mima Mirkovic and Alexia Inman, Cal Beach Volleyball
Mirkovic was a standout freshman for the indoor Volleyball in the fall, but along side Inman, this freshmen duo (who have played together prior to coming to Cal) were instrumental in lifting the Cal program to another level in 2018.
As the new top pair for the Golden Bears, the freshmen went 14-7 (18-8 overall) against some of the best in the country. It will be very interesting to see just how much better they can get by the end of their Cal career. By the end of the 2018 season, Mirkovic ends up pairing with senior Jessica Gaffney while Inman played Iya Lindahl.
This category turned out to be the toughest one for me to choose. Here are some other Cal Bears that were under consideration.
Julia Rosenqvist and Anna Bright, Cal Women’s Tennis
They are my early guesses for potential most improved athletes for next year.
Kyana George, Cal Women’s Gymnastics
The other All-Around gymnast on a loaded Cal team other than Toni-Ann Williams.
Kitty Lynn Joustra, Cal Women’s Water Polo
A much needed inside presence for Cal Women’s Water Polo. The Dutch national gave the Bears offense some much needed variety.
Tuomas Kaukolahti, Cal Track and Field
The sophomore from Finland has dominated the triple jump both indoor and outdoor since he put on a Cal uniform.
Most Improved Player:
Gold - Justin Dunn, Cal Rugby
For someone who I have not heard of before this past season, senior Justin Dunn seemingly came out of nowhere to score 32 tries to lead the team. Dunn is also a scholar off the pitch in graduating from Haas School of Business.
Silver - Billy Griffith, Cal Men’s Tennis
Despite not being physically imposing, Cal senior Billy Griffith slowly ascended the Cal men’s tennis singles court through his college career to become the No.1 player for the otherwise very young squad in 2018. He improved his rankings from top 80 to top 50 in his senior season.
Bronze - Cal Lacrosse
While Cal Lacrosse merely improved their season record from 5-13 to 6-12 in 2018, the rest of the Pac-12 also became a lot better at Lacrosse. Golden Bears lost 3 matches by merely a goal and was mostly competitive in every competition.
The future is bright— Cal Lacrosse (@CalWLax) April 26, 2018
"It's always hard for outsiders to see how far we came. When I first started, we only had 3 wins. Every year we've come out and gotten better. As hard as it is the see that in the moment to focus on, that's really the big picture."
- @CalCoachEubanks #GoBears pic.twitter.com/PQH0P2NJwJ
I would not be shocked if the Golden Bears can achieve a 0.500 season in 2019.
Gold - Cal Women’s Rowing
When you’re the only program to win the national championship, that makes it an easy choice. Congratulations in particular to the Varsity 8+ and 4+ boats for winning their individual national championships...which also allowed the Golden Bears to take the team national championship over Washington.
Silver - Cal Beach Volleyball
Cal improved their record to 24-8 and became a legit top 15 team in the country. Using their depth in 2018, Golden Bears even pulled off a couple of upset wins (over No.11 Arizona and a near upset of No.4 USC). Bears end the season being ranked 11th in the country.
Bronze - Cal Rugby
It was a rebuilding year for Cal Rugby but they still managed to make the D1A Rugby 15s and 7s national championship matches. Sure, Life and Lindenwood got the national titles in 2018, but Golden Bears got some valuable experiences and will be lifting more trophies soon.
Gold - Robert Paylor leaves Colorado hospital under his own power
Less than an year after suffering a spinal cord injury at the 2017 Varsity Cup final, Robert Paylor defied the odds and made tremendous progress in his one year of rehab.
The former Cal Rugby player is an inspiration to all. He is doing a summer internship at Intel before returning to school in the fall.
Silver - Cal Women’s Water Polo beats No.1 Stanford
California Golden Bears defeated No.1 Stanford 8-7 in the regularly scheduled match on March 4th. The win propel the Bears to the No.1 ranking for only the 2nd time in program history and showed that the Bears are a legit contender to be the 4th team ever to win the NCAA championship in the near future.
Bronze - Cal Women’s Gymnastics beats No.4 Utah
For the first time in program history, Cal defeated the Utah Red Rocks in a dual meet. Head coach Justin Howell changed his lineup at the last minute to allow Toni-Ann Williams (originally given the rest for the floor exercise) the opportunity to win the meet and she delivered.
Honorable Mention -
With hindsight, this may be the biggest story of this past spring. Jim Knowlton was named the new Cal Athletic Director. What will the future hold for the current 30 team big Cal Athletics department?
Did I overlook anyone? Make your case below in the comment section.