Just because changes are coming to CGB, does it mean that I have written my last Golden Medals article...yet.
This week, after a long holiday hiatus, Golden Medals is back to discuss the winter and spring Olympic sports. With the 2020 Tokyo games coming up this summer (late July to early August), we should once again see some slight impacts to the Cal seasons.
Back in 2016, we saw Cal swimmers competing in more long course (like the Olympic) races than the normal collegiate short course races throughout the season. The biggest impact came during the Pac-12 Championships when the top Cal Bears like Ryan Murphy, Josh Prenot, Jacob Pebley (all of them became 2016 Rio Calympians) were racing at a different meet than the Pac-12 Championships.
For the 2020 season, I can see a similar thing happening yet again for both Cal men’s and women’s swimming squads full of Olympic hopefuls. Cal men’s Singapore Calympian Zheng Wen Quah had already missed a big fall meet to book his return to the Olympic games. Nonetheless, as unimportant as the Pac-12 Championships may be, expect both Cal men’s and women’s swimming to be at full strength comes the NCAA National Championships. You can argue if the top swimmers will quite completely taper (to be at their peak) for that meet vs. the June US Olympic trials in Omaha, but we won’t ever have a fully clear answer about that.
Coming off the 2019 NCAA championship, Cal men’s swimming certainly has the depth to potentially repeat in 2020. A big question for the squad would be who will step up to replace the loss of Andrew Seliskar to graduation. The answer to that question may be the senior Olympian in Quah. Quah placed 3rd (200 Fly) and 6th (100 Fly) to score points for the Bears last year, but he’s capable of making at least 3 individual A-Finals (Quah just missed the top 16 in 200 IM last year). Quah missing the Minnesota meet may be why Texas dominated that meet even without divers.
Zheng Quah was named the #SEAGames2019's Most Valuable Male Athlete last week!— Cal Men's Swimming (@calmenswim) December 16, 2019
▫️ 8 total medals (led SEA Games)
▫️ 6 gold medals
▫️ 2 silver medals
▫️ 2 @Tokyo2020-qualifying times#EarnIt | pic.twitter.com/iVtDdwJASl
Another big name to watch this spring on the men’s side is Spanish transfer Hugo Gonzalez. There were some belief last year that Hugo Gonzalez may have been deemed eligible for the NCAA. He wasn’t but the Bears also did not need him. Gonzalez is capable of scoring at the NCAA for both 200 IM and 400 IM. Gonzalez also missed the Minnesota meet but posted an Olympic qualifying 200 IM time in an Amsterdam meet instead.
Junior sprinter Ryan Hoffer had a big December to earn the Pac-12 Swimmer of the Month honor on the men’s side. Hoffer won the 50 Free sprint while helping the Bears post NCAA A-cut time in 4 relays, including 2 wins. Bears also had great showing from breaststroker Reece Whitley (200 Breast winner), Trenton Julian (400 IM winner, 200 Fly runner-up), and Daniel Carr (200 Back, 3rd place).
The NCAA men’s swimming and diving championships will once again be raced from Indianapolis, IN in the last full week of March.
Cal women’s swimming, who has been national team runner-ups in recent years to Stanford for the past three years, can perhaps really seize a golden opportunity in 2020. After Stanford lost US Olympic superstars in Simone Manuel (graduation) and Katie Ledecky (turned pro) after the 2018 season, the Cardinal still won the 2019 title (by a smaller margin) over the Bears due to Canadian freshman superstar Taylor Ruck. Taylor Ruck will be taking a redshirt year this season to prep for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
At the end of 2019, Cal women’s swimming has already put the collegiate women’s swimming world on notice with a dominant outing in Minnesota when they won 11 events, including all 5 relays, over a tough field that included Stanford. The good folks over at SwimSwam has ranked Cal women as the top team after this dominant performance. Bears are by far the top team by their Swimulator. With a dominant anchor in Abbey Weitzeil for the relays, Cal Bears are a strong bet to win program’s 5th NCAA team championship in 2020 comes the NCAA national championships in Athens, GA in late March.
It’s just the winter but Weitzeil has already set a new American record in Minnesota late last year. This one swim was also basically enough to earn her the Pac-12 Swimmer of the Month honor for December.
Several Golden Bears also qualified for the US Olympic trials with a long course time trial swim on the last day of that Minnesota meet. The list of current team members that are 2020 Olympic hopefuls include 2016 Rio Calympian Abbey Weitzeil (glad to have her back for her senior season), super sophomore Isabel Ivey (who graduated high school and enrolled early last year to give the Bears a huge boost), sophomore Ema Rajic (for breaststroke), freshman Ayla Spitz (for 100 Back), and senior Aislinn Light (also for 100 Back). Cal UK sophomore Alicia Wilson has also already qualified for the UK trials for the 200 Back.
By the way, long time Cal women’s swimming head coach and Cal Bears Hall of Famer Teri McKeever has just recently earned yet another contract extension. The Cal coaching legend has long earned the right to stay in Berkeley for as long as she desires.
Cal Women’s Gymnastics
Due to an unfortunate timing of the Olympic qualifier back in 2016, Cal women’s gymnastics’ Toni-Ann Williams (who was representing her parents’ home of Jamaica) had to miss the NCAA Championships to qualify for the Rio games.
However, most of the Olympic gymnasts are typically of an age younger than that of college students. I don’t think the 2020 Tokyo games will impact the Golden Bears at all.
Despite graduating Toni-Ann Williams, Cal women’s gymnastics has already earned the No.5 ranking in the country after a phenomenal first meet in Anaheim. Bears followed that up with a NorCal classic win despite a younger lineup that made some mistakes.
Kyana George won the all-around and garnered the Pac-12 Gymnast of the week honor as well.
Bears also saw great routines from sophomore Milan Clausi, including a 9.95 on the vault.
Freshman Nevaeh DeSouza also will be an immediate impact with beam routines like this.
It should be another fun year for the Cal women’s gymnastics program as they just continue to be a national power. Definitely go check them out at Haas this year if you have the chance. You won’t regret it!
Cal Women’s Water Polo
The biggest impact came in women’s water polo, however. Cal lost Calympians Dora Antal (Hungary), Anna Illes (Hungary), and Roser Tarrago (Spain) to a redshirt years as those ladies prepare for the Olympics with their respective national teams. Actually, the impact of the Olympics on the top collegiate programs (AKA the California schools of Stanford, UCLA, USC with Cal still a tier below them without a National Title...yet) was drastic; or one could also see this as opportunities abound for a lot of other players to step up in the collegiate games.
For the 2020 Cal season, the biggest changes will once again come in the Women’s Water Polo team. Golden Bears will once again have 3 key players taking the year off in Netherlands center Kitty Lynn Joustra, Canadian scoring machine Emma Wright, and Greek scorer Elli Protopapas. Both Joustra and Wright are coming off All-American seasons. Wright and her Canadian squad has already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo games. Important spring tournament will decide the fate of Netherlands and Greece.
In addition to these three players taking the year off, Bears lost a lot of players to graduation including at the goalie position. Cassidy Ball is the new keeper and already won the first MPSF player of the week honor last week. Freshman utility player Shea Salvino took the first MPSF newcomer of the week honor as well. Great start for the Golden Bears squad that’s again ranked 4th in the country.
With all the new key players around the collegiate women’s water polo world, it’s tough to predict what will happen in 2020. Why not the very young Cal team to win it all in 2020?