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Golden Medals: Season outlooks for Cal Rugby, Men’s and Women’s Golf

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Cal Women’s Gymnastics earns more Pac-12 honors

Cal Rugby looks quite strong again in the past two weeks after a close win at UCLA in 15s opening weekend
Cal Athletics Twitter

Both Cal Women’s Gymnastics and Cal Rugby have a big home meet/match this Saturday when they host Utah and UCLA, respectively.

Cal Women’s Gymnastics has put up two solid scores on the road but also suffered two losses (if you care about that kind of things) due to some minor hiccups. Look for the 12th ranked Cal Bears to have a near flawless home meet against the 3rd ranked Utes. That should be a very fun event. I will certainly keep an eye on it by watching on my Pac-12 Networks app.

Rather than concentrating on the results of this past week (I will discuss them a bit toward the bottom), let’s continue my attempt to cover all 30 Cal sponsored sports.

This week’s main focus will be on the perennially successful Cal Rugby (both 15s and 7s) as well as Men’s and Women’s Golf. All of these sports have had some results since the fall for us to use to forecast their upcoming spring seasons.


Cal Rugby - The Bears look to unseat Life/Lindenwood for the 15s/7s championship

2019 Season:

15s, D1A Rugby Championship Finalist - lost to Life

7s, CRC Plate winner - lost to Life in round robin play and missed the final 8

Coming off back-to-back years (2016 and 2017) of winning both the 15s and 7s collegiate national championships, Cal Golden Bears are in the middle of a brief two year drought where they have lost to Life University (a chiropractor school in Georgia that has built their athletic program around the sport of rugby) in the 15s championship finals (the D1A Rugby Championship after the collapse of the Varsity Cup) and see Lindenwood (a Missouri school that also has bought into rugby in the last decade) dominated the 7s championships (actually winning both the D1A version where they beat Cal in the 2018 final and the CRC). Both Life and Lindenwood had taken some shortcuts to build their rugby programs in the past by offering undergraduate degrees to former International professional rugby players who are in their mid-20’s.

So far in the 2019-20 season, Cal Rugby has actually looks somewhat vulnerable. While the Bears did win the Pac 7s championship in the fall (the primary goal of the fall 7s season), they lost a few times in the other two fall tournaments. To be fair, head coach Jack Clark had to field a pretty young team, using 7 newcomers, in the fall rugby play as some of the veterans on the squad, such as senior and former CRC MVP Sam Cusano as well as Hong Kong U20 national team player Henry Poon, were held out due to injuries or rest. Bears only edged UCLA 20-19 in the PAC semifinal before beating Arizona 24-7 for the conference crown.

Coming into the 15s season in 2020, both Cusano and Poon are back. In fact, Cal returns 9 of the 15 starters from the 15s championship match last year. Unfortunately, injury is again an issue for the squad as two key members senior center Christian Dyer and sophomore flyhalf Sam Walsh are already both out for an extended time (possibly for the season). Walsh was the primary conversion kickers for the squad in 2019. Bears also graduated key players from last year in flanker Nic Mirhashem, prop Jack Iscaro, and fullback Troy Lockyear.

The inexperience at certain key spots showed in the 15s season opening Storer classic down at UCLA. Golden Bears trailed at the half before pulling off a 19-8 victory with wing Marcus Shankland (last year’s leading try scorer for the Bears) scoring two tries to lead the way. Clark was not too pleased with the execution and the Bears have since bounced back with 137-0 win over the improving UC Davis squad and a 126-0 win at San Diego State.

This Saturday’s match against UCLA will be a big barometer of where the team stands. For the important D1A national rankings (which will both decide which final 16 teams will make the postseason field and who gets home field), Cal is ranked 2nd in the country behind Life. Other than the home-and-home against University of British Columbia Thunderbirds that head coach Jack Clark has de-emphasized in recent years due to UBC becoming a lot more of a “pro” than college team (almost all of their other matches are against Pro clubs), Cal will end the regular season at St. Mary’s Gaels - currently ranked 4th in the country.

Bears are lead by 4 returning All-Americans in seniors Cusano, Dyer (injured), Damon Wiley (former Cal football player), and junior Jack Manzo. Fellow seniors Keanu Andrade and Sebastian Bader are also key contributors. A slew of other young players also have important postseason experiences.

The Cal rugby system is notoriously hard to learn for newcomers, but the Bears also have some of the most talented freshmen in the country. Out of the 12 newcomers, fullback Max Schumacher really shined during fall play and is lone lock as a starter this season as the heir apparent to Troy Lockyear.

Other than the D1A championship for the 15s (the postseason dates are not yet announced), which should come down to either Life, Cal, SMC, or Lindenwood, there is some uncertainty about whether the CRC competition will continue in 2020 from Chester, PA. The parent company that runs that tournament and USA 7s has gone under soon after the 2019 tournament. There is a chance that the Cal 7s championship plan would be like 2018 and be limited to the tournament hosted by D1A Rugby. Granted, Cal Rugby is used to make late plans about the spring 7s championships. Bears, somewhat inexplicably, did not officially got a 2020 CRC invite until late after sitting out the 2019 version (which had lost NBC as TV sponsor) after 5 straight titles; this late placement was likely why Cal was placed in a loaded round robin division with Life, who ended up being the national runner-ups to Lindenwood. Cal’s first ever round robin loss in history kept them out of the 2019 CRC Final 8, as the Bears were edged in the tiebreakers by two other teams.

Nevertheless, if you care about Cal Athletics winning national championships (official count has now been listed as 97 after last year’s men’s swimming and diving NCAA title), you will always care about Cal Rugby. Bears will be a national title contenders yet again, but nothing is guaranteed (particularly if the squad has more bad luck when it comes to injuries). Still, I believe the Bears are due for another national title in 2020, either in the 15s or the 7s.


Cal Men’s Golf - Life post-Collin Morikawa

2019 Season: 10th at the NCAA Championships, did not advance out of stroke play into the top 8 when it changes to match play

Cal Men’s Golf had a once (or maybe twice) in a decade talented team in 2019 that fell short of winning program’s 2nd team national title. Collin Morikawa was arguably the best player to ever play at Cal thanks to his back-to-back Ben Hogan award finalist status. Morikawa finished tied for 35th at the US Open last year after turning pro. Bears also had KK Limbhasut and Sebastian Crampton who are also professional golfers now, though more at PGA Canada tour events for the moment.

The ceiling for the 2020 team is not as high, but the Bears should again be NCAA postseason bound with a strong starting 3-some (almost all collegiate tournament takes the top 4 scores out of 5 players for each round) with junior Kaiwen Liu, sophomore James Song (the two holdovers from last year’s lineup who rotates with another senior in Ben Doyle), and a healthy again redshirt senior in Jamie Cheatham. Joining them is junior Finigan Tilly, returning from a redshirt year, and freshman Kento Yamawaki. Bears are ranked 34th by Golfstat as a team from the fall results.

In their first tournament of 2020, Tilly and Yamawaki both finished individually in the top 5 as the Bears took 4th place at the Southwestern Invitational.

Cal Men’s Golf has long been the other Gold standard program at Cal. While the program has only produced one NCAA team title (2004), Men’s Golf does manage to be financially independent in most (if not all) years. Head coach and former alum Walter Chun is in his 3rd year at the helm of the program after the retirement of Steve Desimone. Chun had to endure the first year when it was a Morikawa solo show (Limbhasut and Crampton both took a redshirt year to get into Haas) and then a super team with the unreasonably high expectation of winning every tournament. Still, the program is in a great shape, particularly given the number of recent alum that may be playing at the PGA level on any given weekend in Morikawa, Limbhasut, Max Homa, Michael Kim, and Byeong-Hun An.

This year’s Pac-12 Championships (April 27-29) is hosted by Washington. The NCAA Regionals will take place in six sites on May 18-20. The NCAA Championships (May 29 – June 3) will be hosted by Arizona State at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, AZ.

With so much variance in the game of golf, it’s hard to say that Cal will definitely make it out of the NCAA Regional or not at the moment. Nonetheless, the talent is certainly there on this Cal team that don’t be shocked if Cal Men’s Golf is making some noise comes late May.


Cal Women’s Golf - Cal still a notch behind the bests in Pac/country

2019 Season: NCAA Regional (12th out of 18th)

Head coach Nancy McDaniel is now in the 25th year at the helm of the Cal program, for which she was the founding coach. McDaniel’s team often has a large international flavor and this year is no difference. The 2019-20 lineup includes freshman Tzu-Yi Chang from Taiwan, sophomore Elena Arias from Spain, senior Maria Herraez Galvez from Spain, junior Sofia Lundell from Sweden, and sophomore Katherine Zhu from California. Bears are replacing two key players in Cindy Oh and Marianne Li who both graduated last year.

Golden Bears had a mediocre fall, culminating with a 10th place finish at the Pac-12 preview.

Unfortunately, the Pac-12 is quite strong in women’s golf yet again. ASU, USC, Stanford, and Arizona are ranked 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 7th in the country, respectively. Oregon and UCLA are also in the top 20.

Under McDaniel, who recently beat breast cancer (it was diagnosed in 2015), Cal has been a perennial NCAA Regional participant while making the NCAA championship in about half of that time. More often than not, Cal will get at least a player to qualify for the NCAA championships although that did not happen in 2019.

Bears should make a return to the NCAA Regional, although they are only ranked 77th in the country right now by Golfstat. Last year, 18 schools were each placed in 4 regionals for a total of 72 schools.


This past week in Cal sports

Honors

2nd Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week honor for Kyana George

2nd Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honor for Nevaeh DeSouza

Wins

Track and Field sent split squads to meets at Seattle and Albuquerque last weekend. Redshirt junior McKay Johnson set a new school record with a shot put throw of 67-8.25 at the indoor event.

Teammate Joshua Johnson had a throw of 63-7.50 from Seattle - good for the 2nd best indoor throw of all time in Cal history. Junior Iffy Joyner had the 5th best all-time throw on the same weekend.

That’s a great start by the shot put group to open the indoor track and field season.

After the two losses on the opening weekend, No.6 Cal Women’s Water Polo (6-4) has mostly righted the ship with wins over UC Irvine 12-11, UC David 12-8. Bears earned another though win with a 10-8 result over Michigan last weekend.

More work to do

The win over Michigan set the Bears up against host Stanford - the Cardinal prevailed 10-6 in the unofficial Big Splash in tournament play. Cal also got edged the previous weekend in the rematch against San Jose State in losing 9-8.

Although Cal Women’s Gymnastics won every title at ASU last weekend, led by Kyana George’s 4 titles (all-around, vault, beam, and floor), a few mistakes on the road meant the Bears only scored 196.250 and got edged by the Sun Devils who got 196.300. A bad start at the bars ultimately cost the Bears a win. Cal’s ranking slipped from No.10 to No.12 as the result. Ultimately, the postseason NCAA regional berth does depend on the average of certain number of top scores, including a few from the road. Bears already have a 197.075 from the previous weekend at Seattle (the unofficial Bear Territory) in the bank with more chances to come later in the season.

GO BEARS!