Best Male Athlete: Keenan Allen
While Cal football continued to be Cal football in 2012, Keenan Allen continued to be Keenan Allen.
Not even shoddy quarterback plays and a porous offensive line could hold back the junior wide receiver. Despite drawing double coverage on almost every play that he was on the field — and not playing in the final three games of the season — Allen racked up 737 receiving yards on the season, including six touchdowns. His 61 catches led the team by a margin of 20.
While Allen’s speed isn’t too impressive, his size and route-running ability made him nearly unguardable on underneath routes over the middle. For the second year in a row, he proved to be Cal’s safety valve, utilized heavily on quick slants and screens.
Against Washington State, Allen drew mostly single coverage, and the result was an 11-catch day for 166 yards and a score.
Allen also served as Cal’s punt return man, putting up 14.1 yards per return despite most teams punting away from him. Allen even showed off some deceptive speed in a 69-yarder against Southern Utah that went for a touchdown.
A surprise to no one, Allen declared for the NFL draft recently and will likely hear his name called in the mid- to late first round. He leaves Cal as the all-time leader in receptions with 205 over his three-year career and ranks third with 2,570 career receiving yards.
And all those statistics are even more impressive given who was throwing him the ball. It will be fun to watch Allen in the NFL with a serviceable quarterback and offensive line. Then we might get to really see how good he actually is.
— Connor Byrne
Honorable mention: Collin Smith
After the removal of five players for code of conduct violations this fall, the Cal men’s water polo team was broken down and torn apart. It badly needed someone to step up and help carry the team. Soon, Collin Smith took the team’s reins.
The junior led the Bears with 61 goals in 23 matches, recording a 2.65 gpg average that ranked fifth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Smith also led the team with 31 assists while adding 31 steals, 10 field blocks and 11 ejections drawn.
Smith had six goals in the Bears’ Big Splash victory over Stanford on Oct. 20 and 19 goals in five games at the Princeton Invitational. In Cal’s win over Pepperdine to open the MPSF tournament, Smith had three goals before being removed for a flagrant foul. His absence during the following two-game suspension especially showed his importance to the Bears, as Cal struggled to score in a 9-5 loss to USC in the MPSF Championship game.
Even from the sidelines, Smith supported his team through the final two games.
“We just have to be their biggest fans now and cheer them on until the last possible second,” Smith said after the Bears defeated No. 2 UCLA in the MPSF semifinal.
Smith joined senior Marin Balarin and sophomore Aleksa Saponjic in winning All-MPSF honors. He will be the foundation that coach Kirk Everist builds on for next season.
— Warren Laufer
Best Female Athlete: Ifeoma Onumonu
Two years ago, Ifeoma Onumonu committed to join the Cal women’s soccer team despite not visiting the campus or meeting her coach, Neil McGuire. But she steadfastedly believed that Cal was the place for her to shine.
Very few people expected her to explode into the limelight as a freshman this year.
In her 19 starts, the striker led her team in both goals and assists with 11 and six, respectively. She was second in the Pac-12 in goals scored. By the end of the season, Onumonu had established herself as the heart of the lineup.
Onumonu has come through in the clutch several times in the season. She is fourth in the Pac-12 with four game-winning goals, two of which came against USC and Washington.
Onumonu provided the firepower to lead Cal to a 16-6 record — the best in McGuire’s six years at Berkeley. In the second round of the NCAAs against No. 2 seed San Diego State, Onumonu scored Cal’s lone goal in the 2-1 loss.
Naturally, Onumonu draws the comparison of former Cal striker Alex Morgan. Since Morgan’s graduation in 2011, the question of who will fill her shoes has been constantly raised. This year, the freshman from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., silenced all questions, perhaps for the next three years.
By the numbers, Onumonu tallied far better than Morgan in her freshman year. In 2007, Morgan chalked eight goals and two assists.
Is it far-fetched to compare Onumonu to arguably the best player in women’s soccer today? Absolutely.
But at the rate that Onumonu’s been progressing, it’s not crazy to speculate that Onumonu will have a better collegiate career than Morgan. In a couple of years, Onumonu might start alongside Morgan for the United States national women’s soccer team.
— Seung Y. Lee
Honorable Mention: Shannon Hawari
In a year of uncertainty and disappointment for the Cal women’s volleyball team, senior middle blocker Shannon Hawari was the rock that held the team together.
Hawari and the Bears began the season with high expectations. However, setback after setback quickly dropped the Bears out of the rankings.
Injuries to stars like outside hitters Correy Johnson and Adrienne Gehan as well as libero Robin Rostratter created huge holes to fill for the team. While teammates flopped around her, Hawari shouldered more leadership, often becoming the most vocal member during games.
As Hawari’s leadership helped the Bears through the tough times, the numbers the senior put up were some of the best in the country. Hawari led the team with 326 kills on the season, posting a stellar .374 hitting percentage that was good enough for third in the Pac-12.
She also made major contributions on the defensive side. Her 1.20 blocks per set ranked her seventh in the conference.
Hawari was rewarded for her strong season, earning all-Pac 12 team honors and thus joining the ranks of some of the best players in the nation.
Hawari’s illustrious career may have ended on a sour note with a first round exit in the NCAA tournament, but Hawari’s season was one of the best in Cal history.
— Austin Crochetiere
Best Coach: Steve Desimone
After the the winningest season in Cal men’s golf history last year, head coach Steve Desimone seemed to have reached his peak. And yet, in his 34th year leading the team, he has surpassed expectations once again.
After winning a program-record six tournaments in the 2011-12 season, Desimone’s team began its 2012-13 campaign by winning its first five competitions.
Cal finished just short of its second-ever national championship last May, falling in the NCAA semifinals and ending the season ranked No. 3 in the nation. With Desimone at the helm, the Bears have taken the No. 1 spot this season. The players credit Desimone’s passion to the program and dedication to winning for much of their success so far.
“Sometimes I think he likes the No. 1 ranking more than we do,” said sophomore Michael Kim.
In November, the California Golf Writers and Broadcasters Association awarded Desimone with the 2012 Jack Lemmon Ambassador of Golf Award, making him the first coach from Cal to win the award.
Desimone has worked his finest magic in player development, turning recruits neglected by other programs into some of the top golfers in the country. Most notably, Desimone recruited Kim when many other golf powerhouses overlooked the 5-foot-11, 135-pound sophomore as too small and too weak to compete at the collegiate level.
With Desimone’s help, Kim has added weight and strength, increasing his drive off the tee. Now the No. 2-ranked individual in the country, Kim is a shining example of how Desimone’s success spreads beyond the golf course.
As the top golf team in the country, the Bears will head to spring season with one goal: bringing the NCAA Championships to Berkeley after narrowly missing out last year.
— Warren Laufer
Honorable Mention: Kirk Everist
In his 11 years as the head coach of the Cal men’s water polo team, Kirk Everist has won two national championships, led the Bears to two Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships and coached more than 50 All-Americans. He has turned the Bears into one of the elite collegiate water polo squads in the country.
But this year, Everist coached Cal to a 17-8 season, the worst record of his tenure and the worst since the 2000 season. Still, considering the obstacles he overcame, this year may have been his best work so far.
Coaches normally can only go so far and do so much for their teams. They cannot control what choices their players make outside of the game, and this year, Everist was forced to face the consequences of his players’ actions.
Everist began the season by removing five players from the team for code of conduct violations. All the while, Everist was in the midst of losing his mother. But even without some of the most talented players on the preseason roster, Everist led the Bears through the ups and downs.
Despite the obstacles, he took them closer to an NCAA title chase than last season, losing in the MPSF final to No. 1 USC — just one win from entering the NCAA tournament.
— Warren Laufer
Best Newcomer: Chris Harper
Chris Harper was almost an afterthought when he committed to Cal. Now, he will be the Bears’ go-to receiver next year after putting together one of the greatest freshman receiving seasons of all time at Cal.
In 2012, he was the squad’s second-leading receiver, catching 41 passes for 544 yards. Both numbers rank second for a freshman receiver at Cal, alongside the rookie stats of presumptive first-round draft pick Keenan Allen and NFL Pro Bowl-er DeSean Jackson.
“It means a lot,” Harper said, “because DeSean Jackson, he’s who I look up to in the NFL — he’s who I try to take after.”
Unlike his five-star predecessors, Harper was not a big-time recruit. In fact, the wideout from Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, Calif., originally committed to Southern Methodist.
But after an unofficial visit to Berkeley, Harper was given an offer to attend his dream school. During the summer, Harper zoomed up the wide receiver depth chart, beginning the fall season behind only Allen, the Bears’ All Pac-12 junior, and Bryce Treggs, a top-25 receiver prospect and Harper’s roommate. In his first two games, Harper accounted for 12 receptions, 151 receiving yards and a touchdown.
With Treggs usually lined up as the deep receiver and Allen often double-teamed, the sure-handed Harper took advantage of Cal’s short game as a primarily slot receiver. He had a few too many fumbles but was as reliable as anyone on the team in catching the ball, making one-handed catches left and right.
Harper’s coming-out party came on Nov. 2 at home against Washington. With Allen and Treggs sidelined by injuries, Harper was called on to be the Bears’ primary playmaker, and he responded with a seven-reception, 101-yard performance that also included a 14-yard run for Cal’s only touchdown.
There will surely be more of that to come for Harper in the coming seasons as the Bears’ top target in new head coach Sonny Dyke’s “air raid” spread offense.
— Jonathan Kuperberg
Best Game: Cal football vs. UCLA
For one game, the Cal football team got to pretend it was a force in the Pac-12.
No. 25 UCLA, the eventual Pac-12 South champion, came into Memorial expecting to blow out a reeling 1-4 Cal squad. And yet, it played 60 minutes of horrid football, and players were sent home with their tails between their legs, getting blown out 43-17.
The Bruins got off to a quick start after Cal quarterback Zach Maynard threw a pick on his first pass of the game. Six plays later, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley connected with his tight end in the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.
Then UCLA fell apart and committed six turnovers — including four picks and a fumble by Hundley — while playing some truly atrocious football. All Cal had to do was sit back and watch the Bruins beat themselves.
Yet while UCLA played what was unequivocally its worst game of the season, the Bears did see some impressive individual performances. Maynard played what was probably the best game of his career, shaking off the early interception to complete 25 of his 30 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns — two to wide receiver Keenan Allen.
Sophomore cornerback Kameron Jackson also turned in the best performance of his young career, picking off Hundley three times while filling in for an injured Marc Anthony. Jackson was then named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.
Yet the game proved to be an anomaly, not a harbinger, and the Bears would finish out the season by winning just one of their next six games. But at least it was fun to go into a time machine and pretend that it was 2006 again, even if for just one game.
— Connor Byrne
Honorable Mention: Cal volleyball vs. Oregon
Cal women’s volleyball began its Oregon road trip in the midst of 2-4 slide and in serious danger of dropping out of relevance in the Pac-12. First up was No. 2 Oregon, a daunting task with a bleak outlook for the Bears.
Five thrilling, emotional, stunning sets later, Cal had shocked the volleyball world, upsetting the Ducks, 3-2 (25-17, 25-21, 22-25, 19-25, 15-13).
The Bears dominated the first two sets of the match behind their blocks, registering 10 total team blocks during the time period. The stunned Eugene crowd watched as the Ducks fell behind slumping Cal 2-0 going into the break.
However, the sleeping giant that was the Oregon offense finally awoke. Behind outside hitters Liz Brenner and All-American Alaina Bergsma, the Ducks mounted a furious comeback to which the Bears had no answer.
After four sets, the game was tied at two sets apiece. A fifth set would be needed.
Oregon’s momentum continued in the final set, as the team jumped out to a 9-5 lead. Cal would need to mount a comeback of its own. That’s just what the Bears did.
The Bears finished on a 10-4 run to pull off the momentous victory. Senior Shannon Hawari registered eight blocks while sophomore Christina Higgins led the offense with 17 kills.
— Austin Crochetiere
Worst Game(s): All nine cal football losses
If there is some solace in Cal football’s nine losses this season, if you can call it that, it’s that each was unique and colorful in its own way. Each of the nine losses broke Cal fans’ hearts in nine different ways. They all equally deserved this accolade.
Some losses gave us hope — some gave us hopelessness. It was the best and definitely the worst of Cal football.
The season opener to Nevada was a disaster from the start. From starting quarterback Zach Maynard’s first-quarter benching, Cal was lost and sloppy. Lady Luck seemed to shower Cal with every chance to prevent it from losing its first game at new Memorial Stadium, but the Bears still pulled off the 31-24 loss.
Then two weeks later, the Ohio State game gave Cal false hope. The eye-opening performances of Maynard and running back Brendan Bigelow kept the Bears tied with the Buckeyes until the last few minutes.
The 35-28 loss planted cautious optimism, only to be trampled to dust by the 27-9 loss to USC and 27-17 loss to Arizona State the following weekends.
Cal teased with a two-game winning streak afterward, but the 21-3 loss to Stanford left no doubts. The Bears’ anemic offensive performance lost the Axe for the third-straight year.
The Big Game loss was the beginning of a five-game skid. The Bears surrendered 49 points to a mediocre Utah offense. The next week, both Cal and Washington embarrassed themselves on ESPN, but the Huskies came out the less mortified team with the W.
Then one last time, against No. 4 Oregon, Cal, like a mercurial siren, tempted fans to believe in an upset until the Ducks blew it open in the second half, 59-17.
Then the 62-14 loss to No. 13 Oregon State put Cal’s season out of its misery. The score really said it all.
It was the perfect exclamation point to a team riddled with question marks.
— Seung Y. Lee
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