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Golden Medals: Fall sport seasons in review; Swimming at Minnesota Invite

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Cal swimming always adjust their schedules to give their athletes the best shots of making the Olympics next summer

It was a big statement season for Cal Volleyball despite missing out on the postseason
Cal Volleyball Twitter

There are two NCAA championships taking place in the Bay Area this weekend, both with plenty of Pac-12 representatives. Stanford, UCLA, and Washington State (along with North Carolina) are the final 4 in the Women’s Soccer College Cup at San Jose. Slightly stretching the “Bay Area” moniker, the Men’s Water Polo championship is taking place in Stockton with Stanford and USC (along with Pacific and Pepperdine) in the mix - a rare year when there were not at least 3 Pac-12 teams in the championship since the addition of the 2nd at-large bid. Too bad, no Cal Fall Olympic sports team is still active. Then again, it also means that this is the time for a season ending reviews.

Made the Postseason:

Cal Women’s Soccer (13-5-3, 5-3-3 in Pac-12) - NCAA 1st Round

Highlights - Bears was solid all year round and defeated both No.7 UCLA 2-1 in Westwood and No.4 USC 3-0 for the first time in over a decade. Bears return to the NCAA postseason after one year absence (2018 was the only absence in head coach Neil McGuire’s 13 seasons in Berkeley).

Awards: Freshman keeper Angelina Anderson was both the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year (the first freshman in conference to earn this honor). She was later named to the 2nd team All-American out of the entire country and will play with the US U-20 team this winter. Future is bright with her in front of the goal for the Bears.

Junior center back Emily Smith and Anderson are both Pac-12 First Team selections. Juniors Emma Westin and Luca Deza are both named to the Pac-12 Second Team.

Season Grade: A-. With the NCAA Women’s Soccer championship taking place in San Jose, you can’t help but feel like it may have been an opportunity missed - particularly with another Pac-12 team in Washington State who broke through to the College Cup for the first time in their program history. Bears were finally fighting for a Pac-12 title until a bad home weekend when they dropped a pair of 1-0 decisions to both Washington and Washington State.

Still, Bears will return almost all the key players next year. One of these years, you would expect Neil McGuire’s team to finally make a deep run in the postseason.

Cal Men’s Soccer (8-7-3, 4-4-2 in Pac-12) - NCAA 1st Round

Highlights - A strong finish including two big road wins at No.1 Washington (3-2) and No.4 Stanford (1-0) earned the Golden Bears a spot in the 32 team postseason (last appearance was 2017). Bears lost 3-1 at UC Santa Barbara (who the Bears defeated 3-0 early in the season). Cal also had two hard fought 3-3 draws against UCLA.

Awards: Senior defender Simon Lekressner was named the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Lekdressner and Taylor Davila are on the conference first team. Drake Callender (6 shutouts), JJ Foe Nuphaus, Tommy Williamson (team high 9 goals) are named to the Pac-12 2nd team. Christopher Grey, Ian Lonergan, and Francisco Perez are named as Pac-12 Honorable Mentions.

That’s all 4 of the Bears’ main defenders (Lekressner, Davila, Nuphaus, and Lonergan) in addition to the goalkeeper (Callender) that got recognitions.

Bears had some issue offensively, but that should get better next year with experience. Unfortunately, Callender and backup keeper Texter will both graduate along with defender Lekressner. So there will be some question marks (or opportunities for younger players) on defense next year.

Season Grade: B+. Despite inconsistencies at times as in the 1-0 losses to SDSU, OSU, etc, the Bears showed that they could beat anyone on any given match. Bears did make their 2nd NCAA postseason appearance in the past 5 years (2017 as well) but has not advanced past the first round since 2014 (when they made the 3rd round with a first round bye). Nonetheless, Bears exceeded expectations with those two big wins at the end of regular season.


WINNING RECORD, NO POSTSEASON

Cal Volleyball (20-10, 10-10 in Pac-12)

Highlights: A 17-1 record to open the year earned the resurgent Golden Bears program a ranking as high as No.14 in the country. Bears should have made the postseason but the NCAA put too much emphasis on the final 10 matches, when the Bears went 3-7 including losing the last 6 but also missed star Mima Mirkovic for the bulk of the losing streak.

Awards: Junior Mima Mirkovic, redshirt sophomore Lauren Forte, and junior Preslie Anderson are all named to the All Pac-12 Team. Senior Maddie Haynes earned Pac-12 Honor Mention honors.

Season Grade: A. Bears can’t help but wonder how far they would have gone this postseason if they only had hold on to beat No.8 Washington on the road in their penultimate match (Mikrovic and Rennie were back but were not as effective down the stretch of that match). Still, head coach Sam Crosson’s first season has to be viewed as a success, even if the official return of the program to the postseason would have to wait at least a year. Bears will lose some key players from this season, but should also have some impact freshmen to replace them.

Cal Men’s Water Polo (14-11, 0-3 in MPSF)

Highlights: After struggling for the bulk of the season, Bears did earn a berth in the MPSF championship that included a 12-9 win over USC. Too bad that the dream to earn the automatic bid fell short in Berkeley when Stanford prevailed in the final.

Awards: Freshman Nikolaos Papanikolaou, 43 goals and 65 drawn exclusions, is the MPSF Newcomer of the Year and also named to the All-MPSF Team. Redshirt senior Jordan Hoover was also named to the All-MPSF First Team. Senior Safak Simsek was named to the MPSF Second Team. Junior Nikos Delagrammatikas and freshman goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg are Honorable Mentions.

Season Grade: C. It’s a weird year in collegiate men’s water polo in that the top 4 teams in the countries was not some order of Cal, Stanford, USC, and UCLA. The 11 losses by the Bears included many to teams that they would typically not lose to in a normal year (UC Davis, UCSB, Pacific, Pepperdine). Nonetheless, this was a rebuilding year for the program with many new faces. Team was also a lot more competitive down the stretch which is a good sign for next year. I’ve got to grade this a bit tougher given the extremely high standard of this program.


ALMOST A WINNING RECORD

Cal Field Hockey (8-11, 1-3 in America East)

Highlights: Bears had a 3-1 win in neutral site over No.24 Cornell, but was only able to come close in their 8 other matches against ranked opponents (including double OT vs. No.14 Syracuse).

Awards: Megan Rodgers is named to the All-Region First Team for the second consecutive year. Rodgers, senior Femke Delissen and sophomore Brynn Zorilla are named to the America East all-conference team.

Season Grade: B-. Cal Field Hockey always have to do a lot of travel, but this year had an extra trip with Pacific dropping their program (so West Coast now only has Cal, Stanford, and UC Davis). Junior Megan Rodgers was a lot more contained this season, but the Bears also played more competitive matches due to a better defense. The gap between the Bears and the top 25 teams is not that big, but close only counts in horseshoes, not field hockey.

Bears will graduate some key playmakers in Katrina Carter, Femke Delissen, and Lindsay Mathison but should again be challenging some tough competitions, mostly on the road in 2020. Few years out of the no-home-field fiasco, the program should be able to get back to a decade ago when they were ranked in the low 20’s in the country.


NO POSTSEASON

Cal Men’s Cross Country, 7th at Pac-12 Championships

Cal Women’s Cross Country, 9th at Pac-12 Championships

It’s hard to gauge the success of Cross Country since they only have a few meets with significant weights put on the Pac-12 Championships and NCAA Regional. Unfortunately, the Bears just fell short of sending anyone to the NCAA championships.

New head coach Bobby Lockhart was announced fairly late in the season. On the women’s side, Bears did have a standout in redshirt sophomore Mina Anglero being the top finisher in her first Cross Country season (she didn’t race in the Cross Country season last school year, only the spring track season). Anglero is the lone Golden Bear to earn All-Regional Honor from USTFCCCA; she just missed out on advancing by placing 22nd at the West Regional. Brie Oakley missed the most of the season before returning for the Pac-12 and NCAA Regional to be the 2nd best finisher for the Bears (45th at the West Regional). On the men’s side, sophomore Colin FitzGerald was the top finisher at 65th.


Check back next week for my picks of the Fall Olympic Sports Superlatives, where I will hand out figurative virtual medals for my top 3 choices for:

Team of the Season

Best Male Athlete

Best Female Athlete

Best Newcomer

Best Game


Cal Swimming at the Minnesota Invitational

With the Olympics next summer, both Cal men’s and women’s swimming typically changes up their training a bit to help their athletes prepare for the US Olympic Trials next June in Omaha, Nebraska. The main distinction between NCAA swimming and Olympic swimming is not just the change from yards to meters but the change from short course (NCAA) to long course (Olympics).

At the end of this Minnesota Invitational this weekend, Bears will also swim a long course time trial on Sunday morning.

This Minnesota Invitational is a good measure of where the team is at this point of the season. Texas, Michigan, host Minnesota, Arizona, Iowa, and Harvard are the other competitions. Texas and Cal have been the only two championship contenders on the men’s side for the past decade. Cal, of course, won the NCAA Championship last year but will miss a significant contributor with the graduation of Andrew Seliskar.

The meet started with two relays on Wednesday afternoon before a full day of action on Thursday.

Through 14 events (about a 3rd of the way), the Cal women has a big lead on the field while the Cal men is in 2nd behind Texas.

Women’s Standing:

1. California, University of, Berkeley 446

2. University of Texas 258

3. University of Michigan 222

4. University of Arizona 211

5. University of Minnesota 125

6. Harvard University 73

7. Iowa, University of 60

Men’s Standing:

1. University of Texas 481

2. California, University of, Berkeley 300

3. University of Michigan 279.5

4. University of Arizona 200.5

5. Iowa, University of 101

6. University of Minnesota 97

7. Harvard Men’s Swimming 52

I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into the team results (one of the top Cal swimmer Zheng Wen Quah is qualifying for the Olympics for his home Singapore at a different meet in the Philippines), but more to the number of event wins.

On the men’s side, Bears won the opening 200 Medley Relay (Carr, Whitley, Sendyk, Hoffer). Hoffer also won the 50 Free.

On the women’s side, Bears have dominated by crowding the top of the podium in a few events. The highlight, however, is senior Calympian Abbey Weitzeil swimming an American and NCAA record 20.90 in the 50 Free.

Bears won both relays on Wednesday, 200 medley (Blovad, Rajic, Murphy, Weitzeil) and 800 Free (Spitz, Ivey, Neumann, Weitzeil). 200 IM saw a tie at the top with two Bears in Ivey and Wilson while Darcel took 3rd. Weitzeil, who has been fighting the since graduated Simone Manuel of Stanford as the top female sprinter in the US for the past 4 years, achieved her goal of becoming the first woman to get under 21 second with her win. Bears also won the 400 medley relay (Blovad, Rajic, Ivey, Weitzeil).

Expect more Golden Bear successes with possibly more record breaking in the final two days of this meet.

GO BEARS!