Olympic Sports Fall Roundup: Cal Men's Water Polo takes MPSF regular season title
Cal Rugby 7s wins another PAC Rugby 7s Championship
It is time for a long-overdue check on the Cal Olympic Sports this fall. Other than No.1 Cal Men’s Water Polo who has really established itself as a national title contender since my last update, the rest of the Cal Fall sports have either completed their season (Women’s Soccer, Men’s Soccer, Field Hockey, Cross Country) or will simply play out their season (Volleyball).
Cal Men’s Water Polo (20-2, 3-0 in MPSF)
The last time that I wrote about Cal Men’s Water Polo, the team had just suffered a relatively bad road loss at No.12 Pepperdine. Since then, the Bears have won all six matches, including the three MPSF regular season matches against rivals USC (on the road), Stanford (at home), and UCLA (at home) to ascend to the No.1 ranking in the nation.
The quick recaps of those matches are presented in reverse chronological order.
No.1 Cal 16, No.3 UCLA 9
On Senior Day, Cal jumped out to a 5-0 lead and went on another 5-goal run after UCLA tied it at 5-5 en route to the most impressive win of the season. A pair of freshmen led the way in the scoring with Roberto Valera (4 Goals and 1 Assist) and Max Casabella (3 Goals and 1 Assist), but the Bears also got 2 Goals and 2 Assist from their Player of the Year candidate in junior Nikolaos Papanikolaou.
Valera scored this key power-play goal to give the Bears some much-needed separation after the Bruins fought back after Cal’s hot start.
With this victory, Cal clinched the No.1 seed in the MPSF tournament, hosted by Stanford, next weekend. This also means that the Bears will likely face host and 4th seed Stanford in the MPSF semifinal on Friday.
No.2 Cal 22, No.20 Santa Clara 7
Nikolaos Papanikolaou (4 Goals, 2 Assists), Jack Deely (2 Goals, 3 Assists), and Roberto Valera (2 Goals, 2 Assists) were the statistical leaders in a match where the entire Cal roster, including two backup goalkeepers, saw action.
Big Splash: No.2 Cal 12, No.4 Stanford 10 (OT)
Cal keeper Adrian Weinberg made 15 saves, including a game-saving one with 9 seconds left in regulation. Jack Deely and Max Casabella scored in OT to give Cal the Heaston Trophy.
You should check out the exciting highlights from the Pac-12 Network below.
Cal vs. Long Beach State - canceled due to COVID within the Cal program
No.2 Cal 15, No.12 Princeton 11
Roberto Valera (6 Goals) and Garret Dunn (2 Goals, 3 Assists) paced the Cal Bears who played this match without Jack Deely and was resting Papanikolaou (who only played a little more than the final quarter).
No.4 Cal 14, No.6 UCSB 13
Cal Bears trailed 12-7 at the half but used a fantastic 2nd-half defensive effort to get this non-conference win. Nikolaos Papanikolaou scored five goals and drew 10 exclusions to lead the way.
No.5 Cal 7, No.1 USC 6
Cal keeper Adrian Weinberg made a career-best 20 saves and 5th-year senior Nikos Delagrammatikas scored a hat-trick to lead the Bears to this tough road win. In this low-scoring but hard-fought match, Papanikolaou drew 7 exclusions for the Bears. Max Casabella’s power-play goal with 5-minute left ended up giving the Bears the lead for good.
Outlook: This Cal Bears team is certainly capable of winning the national championship, but so is UCLA (16-3), USC (15-1), and Stanford (15-4); there is room in the NCAA field for only three of them. Cal would love to win the MPSF automatic berth and get the top overall seed for the NCAA tournament, but they should feel pretty safe about qualifying for the NCAA Championship with just one win next weekend against Stanford/UCLA/USC.
The emergence of the Spanish scoring freshman duo of Valera (35 Goals) and Casabella (30 Goals) really complemented Papanikolaou (60 Goals) and Deely (43 Goals, 44 Assists). Goalkeeper Weinberg (191 Saves, 29 Steals) has also shown the ability to carry the team, if necessary. You throw in the senior leadership of Delagrammatikas (9 Field Blocks) and Miles O’Brien-Shridde (37 Goals, 31 Assists), and Cal has all the ingredients of a championship-winning squad.
Stanford will have the MPSF tournament home pool advantage while USC may have the NCAA tournament home pool advantage, but do those matter? Cal’s last NCAA title did come when they hosted the NCAA Championships, but this team knows that they will have to get it down on the road if they want to bring home the program’s 15th NCAA title in early December.
Cal Rugby 7s - PAC Champ again
While Cal Rugby did play a few matches this past spring of Rugy 15s, they skipped the spring 7s season. In their biggest fall competition, Cal Rugby 7s again won the PAC 7s championship.
Cal defeated Arizona (the only other school to have ever won the PAC Rugby 7s championship) 22-5 in the semifinal and then shut out UCLA 10-0 in the final.
Max Schumacher scored 6 tries over the weekend, including one in the championship match against UCLA, to lead the Bears.
Sam Walsh scored 4 tries, and Kevin Saunders added 3.
Day 1 Recap:
Cal went 3-0 on Day 1 with a 27-7 win over Oregon, 34-5 win over USC, and 36-5 win over Utah. Schumacher scored 4 tries to lead 11 different Cal scorers who found the try zone 17 times.
Cal went 13-0 in the fall Rugby 7s schedule. Honestly, this result was totally expected for the program.
For the spring 15s season, the Golden Bears will seek revenge for their narrow defeat at St. Mary’s this past spring. The bigger question is how much the short season may negatively impact the Cal Bears compared to Life and Lindenwood who all played a full spring season of rugby in the states of Georgia and Missouri, respectively, this past school year.
Season (Effectively) Completed
Cal Volleyball (7-19, 0-15 in Pac-12) - 5 more matches left in the season
There are several striking parallels between Cal Volleyball and Cal Football. Both programs are coming off a second consecutive disappointing season after showing a lot of promise in the fall of 2019. The current poor season is starting to reflect poorly on the young head coach (Sam Crosson and Justin Wilcox), who had an earlier stint at Cal as the assistant coach to the most successful head coach in recent history (Rich Feller and Jeff Tedford) whose long stint at Cal was sadly marked by alleged favoritism to a subset of the team.
Given the amount of talent returning and coming to the team, Cal Volleyball appeared to be a potential NCAA tournament contender in 2021 after just missing out in 2019 despite a winning season. Of course, some injuries and plain ineffectiveness by key players have derailed those plans.
Cal Volleyball has not won a match since September 15th. They have not won a set since October 22nd.
Frankly, Cal Volleyball will probably not win a Pac-12 match this year. After starting the year where they were able to maybe win a set here or there, the Golden Bears have been swept rather handily by most of their opponents. Yes, many of these Pac-12 foes are ranked in the top-25, but the team has certainly regressed in the second half of the season. More perplexing, Cal has gone with former outside hitting extraordinaire Mima Mirkovic as the libero (the backrow only player who cannot attack) for the last few weeks. This is despite the Bears finally regaining sophomore Lydia Grote back from injury midseason to be a force in the middle to pair with redshirt junior Bella Bergmark.
It is yet another tough season for the program. I do think freshman setter Annalea Maeder can be the key piece to the turnaround, but Cal needs both more impact freshmen in the future as well as the underclassmen to improve.
The Beach Volleyball program under Meagan Owusu has thrived while her former program has sadly struggled with no clear path to a turnaround in sight.
Cal Field Hockey (10-7, 5-3 in America East) - lost in America East Semifinal
With Stanford’s understandable struggle after nearly cutting their program, Cal has again become the best of the West in 2021. Despite all the East Coast trips, Cal managed to avoid a COVID outbreak, this feat is perhaps more impressive than their winning season and how all of their losses came against ranked opponents.
Juniors Cato Knipping (goalkeeper) and Megan Connors (midfielder) both had strong showings in the America East tournament to close the season. Graduate student Maddie Cleat and sophomore Kiki de Bruijne have also had strong seasons for the Cal Bears.
The Bears needed to have won the America East tournament to make the NCAA tournament play-in match. They fell short by losing to No.25 Maine Black Bears in the semifinal.
Cal Women’s Soccer (8-7-3, 4-6-1 in Pac-12) - RPI of 68, no NCAA postseason berth
Despite the No.1 recruiting class in the country and some early great results, the Cal Bears could not overcome a few midseason losses (to Oregon and to Washington) where they dominate the scoring chances nor find a way to earn the much-needed late upset wins against No.5 UCLA (0-1 loss in OT), No.10 USC (0-2), and Stanford (1-3). The Golden Bears were left out of the NCAA field of 64.
Defender Emily Smith wrapped her brilliant career with a Pac-12 Second Team honor. Goalkeeper Angelina Anderson and senior defender Sydney Collins were named to the Third Team. Forward Karlie Lema and defender Ayo Oke were named to the All-Freshmen Team.
Cal Men’s Soccer (3-9-3, 1-6-1 in Pac-12)
Cal was able to end their season on a relatively high note in drawing Stanford. Senior defender Christopher Grey scored his first career goal in his final collegiate match.
I do think the Bears were a better team than what their record would indicate, but a tough schedule (Oregon State and Washington were both ranked in the top-5 all season long) and some bad luck in close matches doomed the team in their bid to return to the 48-team NCAA postseason field.
At the end of the day, Cal’s lack of offense (only 15 goals in 15 matches) made it tough for the Bears to get upset wins, even when they played great defense.
Cal Cross Country - no Cal Bear qualified for the NCAA Championship
Cal closed their seasons at the NCAA West Regional in Sacramento this past Friday. The top three teams would advance to the NCAA Championships while the top-5 student-athletes not on the advancing team will qualify as individuals.
The Cal women took 17th while the men took 18th. Graduate student (transfer from Notre Dame) Erin Archibeck (listed as in the Cal Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. program) led the Cal women by placing 53rd. Jessica Nye took 96th place.
On the men’s side, Garrett MacQuiddy was the top finisher at 72nd. He is joined in the top-100 by Colin FitzGerald (78th) and Carrick Denker (92nd).
Unless there is again some weird COVID rule like in the spring that allowed all four teams to make the NCAA Championships.
THANK YOU so much for this much-needed break from the doom-and-gloom of our "major" programs. Cal's Olympic sports crush it and deserve more love. Good job with the water polo write-up, especially your appreciation of how our Spanish freshman "juniors" (they both play for the Spanish junior international squad) are coming alive just in time to boost us through NCAAs.