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Golden Medals: Preseason love for Cal Women’s Water Polo and Beach Volleyball

Cal Rugby starts 15s play down in UCLA this weekend

Cal sophomore Mima Mirkovic is ready to dominate the beach season after a brilliant indoor season this fall.
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Cal Women’s Water Polo

We discussed the challenges facing Cal Women’s Water Polo in 2019 last week. Bears will have to replace two Hungarian Calympians, including the program’s all-time leading scorer in Dora Antal, and a lot of other key players. Picked to finish 4th in the MPSF conference, Bears are also picked 4th overall in the country in the preseason.

Two Bears went on the Cal podcast this past week. It is a sign of big changes to the team since I can’t claim that I am that familiar with the either Claire Sonne nor Lauren Charter. Sonne is a sophomore defender and Charter is a senior captain attacker for this season.

By graduation of Antal, Carla Carrega, and Anna Illes (the other Hungarian Calympian), Bears lost ~45% of the goal scoring from last year. Emma Wright, by one goal, was actually the leading scorer last year; the Canadian national should see a boost in her goal scoring in her junior season. Bears also should get more goals inside from Dutch national Kitty Lynn Joustra. Joustra, who joined the team last spring, really improved her importance on the team between the start and the end of the season as a force from the 3-meter line.

Opportunities are certainly available for numerous Cal Women’s Water Polo players to breakout this season. Hopefully, the program will continue to close that gap between itself and the other 3 California Pac-12 schools in Stanford, UCLA, and USC (last year’s champs).

The season opening Cal Cup will start next weekend, January 26th, from Spieker Aquatics Complex.

Cal Beach Volleyball

Coming off the best season in the young program’s history, Cal Beach Volleyball has earned a preseason ranking of 11th in the country. Golden Bears finished 2018 as the 12th best team in the country.

Of course, the Pac-12 has dominated the Beach Volleyball expected. The 1st 3 NCAA championships went to USC x2, and UCLA last year. Consequently, Cal Bears will have several opportunities to match up against the best in the country during the regular season at the Pac-12 North and Pac-12 South tournaments, ahead of the season ending Pac-12 tournament. Bear will also visit Hawaii, who has finished 3rd in the country last year.

The clear highlight of the 2018 season was when Cal defeated the 4th ranked USC in the middle of the season. USC eventually returned the favor by ending the Cal season in the season ending Pac-12 tournament by a 5-0 result. To consistently challenge the USC and the UCLA of the beach volleyball world is the next step for this Cal program.

Returning 8 of the 10 players in the lineups that went 24-8 in 2018, Golden Bears will look for even better results from the top of the rotations. Similar to college tennis, the team result is determined by the 5 pairs. Bears’ 2018 success was built more on depth, consistently winning on both No.4 and No.5 courts, while also taking one of No.3 or sometimes No.2 court matchups. There is still a bit of separation between Cal’s top pair and the other top pair in the country, however.

The pair of Grace Campbell and Maddie Micheletti (both back) won national honor as one of the best No.5 pair in the country. Mima Mirkovic, well known by Cal Volleyball fans as the best outside hitter and really all around player, earned the 1st Pac-12 first team honor in program history. Mirkovic, who has been a standout beach player in high school, started the year in the No.3 pair but ended up in the top pair with the since graduated Jessica Gaffney (another player who did both indoor and beach volleyball). Iya Lindahl was named to the Pac-12 2nd team.

Mirkovic and fellow sophomore Alexia Inman also spent the summer playing together while interning for AVP Tour. The two players both get to play against the best in the world but also learn about the behind-the-scene stuff when they are not playing. They should be the clear cut top pair for the Golden Bears this season. Mirkovic and Inman played together at the start of last season before being split for strategic reasons.

Bears will continue to play at the Clark Kerr courts, which will be renovated to provide a better experience for both the players and fans in the offseason.

Cal Rugby starts 15s Play this weekend

The Rugby season is about to start again. Golden Bears will open the 15s season down at UCLA in the annual Storer Classic.

Although Cal will play UCLA this weekend, the result will not count toward the PAC conference standings - and the associated postseason berth. That official match will come on March 9th. Looking at the posted schedule, Bears will also face ASU, Utah, and Arizona in conference play. Absent from the schedule for 2019 is Stanford.

After finishing as the runner up to Lindenwood at the USA Rugby’s D1A 15s national championships last year, Cal Bears are currently ranked 2nd to 4th by college rugby websites. The other contenders this year are Lindenwood, Life, and St. Mary’s.

The Cal match vs. SMC is the lone Pac-12 Networks broadcast of the season. Bears will host the Gauls on March 30th in a match that will likely have profound postseason seeding implications.

Both Cal Gymnastics will take on Stanford this weekend

If you follow Cal Men’s Gymnastics, you would know that Cal has a 3-4 meets against Stanford every year (thanks in part to there not being that many men’s gymnastics program). So after hosting Stanford last weekend, Bears will travel down to the Farm this Saturday night for another meet.

Cal women will also matchup against Stanford, but on Monday (it’s MLK day). This will be Cal’s first home meet as well as the first 2019 appearance on the Pac-12 Network.

Check back on Monday morning for our open thread for the Cal Women’s Gymnastics home opener when the 12th ranked Golden Bears will host the 24th ranked Stanford Cardinal.

Cal Tennis to start dual match play from the state of Florida

With Cal men’s tennis’ schedule dual meet at Pacific on Tuesday postponed due to weather, the first dual meet of the season will instead be this Sunday against Florida State from Orlando for the USTA National Campus Collegiate Series.

Bears will then face a tough field that includes No.17 Virginia and host No.9 Texas A&M at the ITA kickoff weekend from Texas A&M for a spot in the final 16 of the ITA Indoors Tennis championships. It should be apparently quickly, how much the young Cal squad has matured in the offseason. Bears will be riding quite a bit on the now sophomore class, that was ranked the best in the country as recruits.

For the Cal women, they had a nice tune up hosting the Winter Invitational last weekend. Playing as individuals, it’s still not surprising that Bears won both the singles and doubles titles. Sophomore Julia Rosenqvist, Cal’s No.1 player last year, earns the singles title while the sophomore pair of Anna Bright and Jasie Dunk won the doubles title.

Cal women’s tennis will also make a trip down to Florida as the Bears face Florida from Gainesville on Wednesday. For the ITA kickoff, Cal will travel to South Carolina the following weekend.

It’s a rare season that neither Cal men’s nor women’s team are hosting the ITA kickoff weekend, but that will hopefully change next year after both Cal tennis teams return to the top 16 by the end of this season.