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Cal Olympic Sports: Defending champ Men's Rowing looks strong in beating rivals UW, Stanford
Several Cal Olympic Sports programs have just qualified for their respective NCAA postseasons
While we await Cal Rugby’s national championship final against Navy on Saturday at 4:30 PM PT, this post is the long overdue return of quick hits on the busy spring Cal Olympic sports schedule. A lot has happened since the last one before I switched format to more focused posts about only one sport (Men’s Swimming and Diving, Women’s Gymnastics, Rugby 15s, and Beach Volleyball). Essentially, the seasons have come down to the postseason (or the last attempt to make the NCAA postseason via the conference tournament) for the bulk of spring sports. But before we get to those teams, let’s take a quick glance at the national title contenders, even though they won’t compete for the national championships for another month plus.
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National Championship Contenders
Cal Men’s Rowing
Following the footsteps of Cal Men’s Water Polo and Cal Men’s Swimming and Diving, Cal Men’s Rowing are in a good position to repeat as national champions in this 2022-23 school year. In case you missed it, the Varsity 8 boat of Cal Men’s Rowing won the IRA Championship last June. Because tradition (and it is the oldest of collegiate sports) dictated it, the main “team national championship” is solely determined by the Varsity 8 boat rather than a combination of the results for all the boats (Ten Eyck Trophy). Cal won the former but not the latter in 2022. Nonetheless, it was enough to push Cal Athletics’ claim of National Championships to 100 (it’s now 102 after the Men’s Water Polo, Men’s Swimming and Diving repeats).
Let’s take a look at the Cal Men’s Rowing Varsity 8 lineups between last year and this year.
This is the 2022 IRA Champion Varsity 8 lineup:
This is the Cal Varsity 8 lineup against UW from two weekends ago:
Graduate transfer (from Brown, who finished 3rd last year) Gus Rodriguez made the Cal V8+ boat in 2023, pushing Elliott Kemp to the 2V8+ boat. Otherwise, the rest of the IRA championship-winning boat is intact for a repeat run.
No.1 Cal defeated No.3 Washington two weeks ago, up in Seattle to retain the Schoch Cup. The time difference here is fairly slim, with Cal winning by three seats. UW’s press release is quick to point out how Cal bested Washington by over 8 seconds at the IRA Championship last year.
1. Cal – 5:30.018
2. Washington – 5:31.202
(I don’t know what is going on with the times listed in this Tweet).
No.1 Cal then defeated No.9 Stanford by a much more comfortable margin this past weekend.
1. Cal - 5:31.7
2. Stanford - 5:36.0
The Schoch Cup awarded to the annual winner of Cal/UW is named after a former UW rower Delos “Dutch” Schoch who graduated in 1936 and was a spare to the 1936 Olympic Team. That 1936 team and the whole Cal/UW rowing rivalry are the subjects of the book “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown which will also soon be in the theaters as a movie directed by George Clooney. Spoiler alert, UW bested Cal that year and then won the Gold over Nazi Germany. Nonetheless, my sister who is clearly biased as someone on the promotional team of this film said that Cal fans (AKA me) will also enjoy this, particularly since the Cal head coach was portrayed to have donated the last money that allow UW to travel to Berlin, Germany for the 1936 Olympic Games.
The rise of the Ivy League in recent years, spurred by former Cal head coach and temporary Cal AD Steve Gladstone at Yale, means that Cal should again get some tough competition from Yale and possibly Brown from Mercer Lake, New Jersey on June 3rd. Yet with essentially the same boat racing again, Cal has got to be considered the favorite until dethroned.
Golden Bears should also be more competitive in their other boats this year. Every boat other than 3V8 (V8, 2V8, 4V8, Freshmen 8) won against Washington. Cal swept both races (V8 and 2V8) against Stanford.
Cal will next race at the Pac-12 Championships on May 14th from Dexter Lake, Oregon before the IRA National Championship out East in early June.
ROW ON YOU BEARS!
Cal Track and Field
Even with the graduation of Canadian “Calympian” Camryn Rogers who won the last three NCAA women’s hammer throw titles, Cal will have multiple individual national championship contenders in the throwing events.
Sophomore Mykolas Alekna will again be an NCAA title contender. The Lithuania native set the previous NCAA record for discus last year (68.73m) at the Pac-12 Championship but only placed 2nd at the NCAA. Alekna shattered his old record with a 71.00m throw at the recent Big Meet.
This achievement garnered Alekna plenty of national recognition this week, including one from NCAA.
Alekna’s feat combined with other PRs like sophomore Riley Knott on javelin allowed No.20 Cal to defeat No.15 Stanford 99-64 at the Big Meet.
On the women’s side, senior (and potential future Great Britain “Calympian”) Anna Purchase is ready to pick up the slack of Camryn Rogers and keep the NCAA women’s hammer throw title in Berkeley. Purchase, the current top distance in NCAA this year (73.02m set at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational in Berkeley earlier this year), just needed a 69.69m throw to win at the Big Meet. Freshman Carolina Visca set a new school record for javelin with a throw of 52.41m.
As a team, Cal upset No.12 Stanford 87-76 to also take the women’s half of the Big Meet. It’s a two-year streak of Cal sweeping both the men’s and women’s halves of the Big Meet.
Look for both Alekna and Purchase to contend for the NCAA titles on June 8-10 from Austin, Texas. Cal should also have some other qualifiers such as last year’s women’s triple jump finalist Busola Akinduro, etc. While Cal has got a way to go in the running (both sprint and distance) events to compete for the NCAA team titles against the likes of Oregon, USC, etc., there is no denying that Cal Throwing is enjoying an age of renaissance right now.
NCAA Postseason Bound!
Cal Beach Volleyball (28-8)
National Ranking: 8th seed at the NCAA Championships (Gulf Shores, AL) this weekend (Friday, May 5th vs. 9th seed Long Beach State)
Golden Bears fell short of a first-ever Pac-12 Championship title after losing 3-0 to No.1 UCLA in the final last Friday. Nonetheless, the win over No.3 USC for the first time was a huge confidence boost in what could be a wide-open NCAA Championship due to a format change to single elimination only.
A rematch against UCLA is most-surely next should the Golden Bears earn their first win at the NCAA Championship in program history (Cal was one-and-done in their inaugural trip last year).
Cal Women's Water Polo (19-9)
National Ranking: 3rd seed at NCAA Championship (Stockton, CA) on May 12-14
With their season on the line, Cal redshirt freshman Claire Rowell found the back of the net with 18 seconds left for her third goal of the match. Senior goalkeeper Isabel Williams stopped UCLA’s final shot to preserve the 12-11 win in the MPSF Championship Third-Place Game. As a result, Cal jumped from No.6 in the country before the MPSF Championship to a 3rd overall seed ahead of previous No.3 UCLA. The MPSF teams also again swept the three at-large bids (No.2 USC, No.3 Cal, and No.4 UCLA) in addition to the automatic bid (won by No.1 Stanford). Previous No.4 Hawaii and No.5 UC Irvine got lept by Cal as UC Irvine got the automatic bid and Hawaii, which fell in OT of their conference final, was left out of the NCAA bracket.
Check out Rowell’s game-winner in the Tweet below:
As the 3rd seed, Cal will face Princeton in the NCAA quarterfinals on May 12. A win there will likely set up a rematch against 2nd seed USC in the NCAA semifinal on May 13th.
Golden Bears are still seeking that elusive first NCAA championship title in this sport where the only winners have been Stanford, USC, and UCLA.
My sense (especially after seeing this team in person of their regular season loss at UCLA) is that Cal unfortunately does not have enough offensive prowess. However, if keeper Isabel Williams, a Cutino Award Watch List, can get hot and stop everything to carry the team on NCAA weekend, a really big Cal surprise championship is at least plausible.
Cal Women’s Golf
National Ranking: 40 (GolfWeek)
NCAA Regional: 7th seed in Palm Beach Gardens (FL) Regional (May 8-10)
Top-5 team finishers (out of 12 teams) and the low individual not on an advancing team after 54 holes will advance to the expanded NCAA championship field of 30 teams.
Junior Christina Ochoa and graduate transfer (from USF) Annika Borrelli are the top Bears this season. Ochoa finished as high as 3rd individually at an event. Borrelli was the best Bear at the recent Pac-12 Championship when she finished 7th overall.
Cal Men's Golf
National Ranking: 49 (GolfWeek)
NCAA Regional: 10th seed in Morgan Hill (CA) Regional (May 15-17)
Top-5 team finishers (out of 13 teams) and the low individual not on an advancing team after 54 holes will advance to the expanded NCAA championship field of 30 teams.
Cal Men’s Golf returns to the NCAA postseason for the first time since 2019. Having some top talent (even if they may not have the collegiate results…yet) and the inherently chaotic nature of golf means that no one should be surprised IF Cal does manage to advance despite the low seed.
Cal will also get to play nearby at a regional hosted by San Jose State.
Golden Bears finished 8th at the Pac-12 Championships last weekend, but have got 5 top-5 finishes this school year. Junior Sampson Zheng has been the top Bear this season with a win and a runner-up finish individually.
Cal Women's Tennis (12-9)
National Ranking: 26
Postseason path: vs. San Diego (12-10) in NCAA 1st round on May 5th in Austin, TX
After an upset 2-4 loss to USC in the Pac-12 championship semifinals, Cal will look to show that they are indeed a top-16 caliber team again with Valentina Ivanov back to lengthen the lineup. Cal will face San Diego in the first round ahead of a possible second-round meeting against host and 8th overall seed Texas on May 6th. Texas (21-4) will face Texas A&M Corpus Christi (15-5) in the other first round in Austin.
Cal’s top singles player Haley Giavara has not played that well this spring after a strong individual season this past fall. She certainly does have the ability to beat just about anyone.
55th-ranked sophomore Jessica Alsola has been the most consistent Cal Bear this spring and has also earned herself a spot in the NCAA Singles Championship (Field of 64). Alsola with fellow sophomore Katja Wiersholm will also represent Cal in the NCAA Doubles Championship (Field of 32). The NCAA individual tennis championships will take place on May 22-27 from Orlando, FL.
Cal Men's Tennis (12-10)
National Ranking: 29
Postseason path: vs. No.33 LSU (14-10) in NCAA 1st round on May 6th in Ann Arbor, MI
Cal will return to the NCAA postseason for the first time since 2019 and for the first time under head coach Kris Kwinta. Bears will face LSU in the first round on Saturday before a likely matchup against host and 7th-overall seed Michigan (24-4) on Sunday.
Graduate student Yuta Kikuchi is Cal’s top singles player. No.28 Kikuchi has also made the NCAA singles championship (May 22-27 from Orlando, FL) as an individual. Kikuchi has made the NCAA doubles championship twice in his career but will be making his debut in the singles championship.
As a team, Cal is coming off a Pac-12 quarterfinal loss to No.23 Stanford. Against a strong Pac-12 this year, Bears have gone 3-3 in conference action.
Transfers Ryder Jackson (from USC) and Siddhant Banthia (from Wake Forest) have both been mainstays in Cal’s lineup this year joining Kikuchi. Cal men are less likely than the Cal women to make a deep postseason run despite so many veteran collegiate players. Nonetheless, back in the NCAA field of 64 is where Cal Tennis (both men and women) should be, annually.
Almost surely NCAA Postseason Bound
Cal Women’s Rowing
Cal uncharacteristically finished 6th in the country in 2022. Adding more insults possibly, former Cal head coach Dave O’Neill has finally achieved an NCAA title at Texas after 8-years there. Unfortunately, it would appear that Cal is still closer to No.6 in 2023 than No.1
No.7 Golden Bears have already lost Big Row to No.2 Stanford and Simpson Cup to No.6 Washington. The NCAA Rowing championship is awarded to the best cumulative result of Varsity 8, 2nd Varsity 8, and Varsity 4 boats. Cal was swept in all three of these races to Stanford.
Nonetheless, Cal got some time to possibly improve ahead of the Pac-12 Championship on May 14 from Dexter Lake, Oregon. I would also expect Cal to be one of the teams racing in Cooper River in New Jersey on May 26-28. Head Coach Al Acosta’s team just might not be able to improve that much from their result last year (if not slip by a couple more spots).
Cal Softball (31-17-1, 7-13-1 in Pac-12)
Head coach Chelsea Spencer’s team briefly earned a No.25 ranking nationally, but Cal (RPI ranking of 29) is still a cut below No.2 UCLA (RPI 2), No.8 Stanford (RPI 3), No.10 Washington (RPI 14), and No.14 Oregon (RPI 16). Despite ace/slugger Sona Halajian missing time, Cal got improved pitching from Haylei Archer (3.83 ERA), Annabel Teperson (3.80 ERA), and Anna Reimers (3.74 ERA) this year. In the lineup, senior Makena Smith continued to smash (even if the slash line of 0.300/0.432/0.650 is a bit more ordinary than what she used to do). Smith is already drafted 15th overall in the Women's Pro Fastpitch draft by something called "Smash It Sports Vipers". Cal has struggled offensively against the better Pac-12 pitching but the power (the team hit 24 homers on the year) is still there.
Golden Bears should return to the NCAA postseason for the first time since 2018, but how far they may go will depend on the luck of the draw. With one more series (at Arizona, RPI 50) before the Pac-12 tournament (also at Tucson, AZ), Cal Bears will have some more chances to build some confidence and momentum before the NCAA tournament.
There is still a chance (depending on when you read this)
Cal Lacrosse (5-12, 2-8 in Pac-12)
As impossible as it may be for Cal Lacrosse to run the table and get the Pac-12 automatic bid, Golden Bears will have the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium this weekend since they are hosting the Pac-12 Tournament. Cal will first need to upset Arizona State later today (Wednesday at 4:30 PM PT).
Head coach Jennifer Wong's first season at least saw Cal getting two wins over Oregon. It is kind of tough to see a sudden improvement of this program without some big injection of money by some rich donors. Then again, USC only added this program in 2013 and was already making the NCAA tournaments consistently in 2015.
Cal Baseball (18-23, 6-15 in Pac-12)
I will have my first close look at Cal Baseball this weekend when they play three important games at UCLA. Bears need to improve on their 6-15 conference record to claim the 8th and final Pac-12 Baseball tournament spot. Arizona with a 9-15 conference record (and not playing a Pac-12 series this weekend) is currently 8th. Cal will play at UCLA (10-9-1 in Paca-12), host a beatable Washington State (7-13 in Pac-12), and visit Washington (11-9 in Pac-12) to close the season.
Of course, even if Cal can make the Pac-12 Baseball tournament, winning the automatic bid will be hard. After a promising start to the season, Cal just never recovered after losing ace Ian May to injury. While other pitchers have tried their best to pick up innings, Cal just doesn't have enough reliable pitching yet again. Cal's early reliance on key 3-run homers also turned out to be an unsustainable strategy.
Nonetheless, the season is not quite over yet and the Golden Bears do have a mathematically possible path to an automatic bid (thanks to the newish Pac-12 tournament) and the postseason.
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