In case you were too busy studying to keep track of Cal’s many sports teams, The Daily Californian’s sports editor takes a look back at some of the top moments from the year.
After losing two of the team’s biggest stars to the pros, the Cal men’s soccer team didn’t really know where it stood. Steve Birnbaum and Christian Dean had been the backbone of a defensively minded team, so this year, led by Stefano Bonomo and Connor Hallisey, the team adopted a more offensive mindset. Still, when No. 2 UCLA came to Berkeley on Oct. 10 to take on the No. 22 Bears, Cal looked like the underdog.
But fans at Edwards Stadium were in for quite the treat as the Bears and Bruins battled and battled and battled. Late in the first half, Cal struck first. In the 41st minute, forward Stefano Bonomo headed in his seventh goal of the season off of a free kick by Seth Casiple. Then, in the 79th minute, the Bears added a goal when Paul Salcedo knocked in his second goal of the season.
The Bears maintained that 2-0 lead until the 86th minute, when UCLA was able to tack on a goal — a cross across the box that was nicely finished by Larry Ndjock, who came on as a substitute. The Bears still led 2-1 until the 90th minute, when Bruin defender Javan Torre managed to tap the ball into an open net from inside the box for his first goal of the season, with about 30 seconds remaining in the match. So, into overtime the game went.
Then, in the 99th minute of overtime, the Bears struck. Cal midfielder Christian Thierjung dribbled the ball past two defenders and beat the goalkeeper. He then nailed a shot into the far left corner. Game over.
Later in the season, then-No.-17 Cal again upset then-No. 1 UCLA, 1-0, but it was the Bruins who got the last laugh as they beat the Bears, 3-2, to knock Cal out of the NCAA tournament. But Cal’s overtime victory over UCLA showed the rest of the college soccer world that the Bears weren’t a team to be taken lightly.
Cal men’s basketball bests No. 23 Syracuse
In an exciting new era of men’s basketball, Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin gave the Bears an exciting taste of a big upset win. As part of the 2K Classic, the Bears and No. 23 Syracuse met at Madison Square Garden — the third time in a row that these two teams had met. And unlike the previous two times, Cal came out on top, 73-59.
The Bears started off the game with lots of ball movement and high post work against Syracuse’s famously tough zone defense. And while Cal struggled a bit early on getting points on the board, eventually the Bears fell into a rhythm. Then the buckets kept coming — four different Bears hit four straight 3-pointers going into the half — and nothing looked too difficult for Cal, as the Bears were on top, 34-22, shooting 50 percent as the first half ended.
Cal came out in the second half and put even more pressure on the Orange. Sophomore guard Jordan Mathews came alive in the second half, scoring 20 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. Jabari Bird, also a sophomore guard, added 16 points, and senior forward David Kravish notched a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds, as well as adding five assists. Junior guard Tyrone Wallace finished the game with 10 points and six assists. Wallace didn’t score until more than seven minutes into the game and had some trouble from 3-point range as well as turnovers — he had four. Redshirt junior Christian Behrens, who rounded out the starting lineup, gave the Bears their first five points.
The Bears’ defense limited Syracuse’s ability to get shots up, holding the Orange’s leading scorer, freshman guard Kaleb Joseph, to just 13 points. Senior forward Rakeem Christmas, who came into the game as Syracuse’s leading scorer, averaging 18 points and 12.5 rebounds, scored just eight points and nabbed six rebounds before he fouled out of the game with 6:23 left on the clock and his team down by 14.
As part of that game, the Bears have gotten off to their best start in 13 years and are currently 9-1 — the one loss coming to then-No. 10 Texas in the 2K Classic final, a day after the Bears beat the Orange.
Cal women’s volleyball snaps Pac-12 losing streak
It was a tough year for the Cal volleyball team, a team that had made it to 12 consecutive NCAA tournaments. Despite getting off to a reasonable 8-2 nonconference start, once the Bears hit Pac-12 play, things quickly started sliding downhill. After losing 14 straight to its Pac-12 rivals, Cal managed an upset over then-No. 21 USC in the Bears’ first victory against the Trojans in 10 years.
The Bears lost the first set, 21-25, but they bounced back to take the second set, 25-23. Then, the Trojans took the third set, 25-23, even though the Bears had been leading for most of the set, putting Cal in the precarious position of going home with one more loss in a set. But Cal won the next set, 25-15. In that fourth set, the Bears averaged an insane .517 hitting percentage, while USC only averaged a .216 hitting percentage.
USC started off strong in the fifth set, taking a 10-6 lead. But Cal rallied to score the next three points before redshirt sophomore outside hitter Nikki Gombar hit a beautiful ace to tie the score up at 10-all. At 12-12, Christina Higgins stepped up, and her back-to-back kills gave the Bears their first match point. A kill by a USC player cut the Bears’ lead to 14-13, but Lara Vukasovic followed that up with a kill of her own to win the game, 15-13, sending the Bears into an excited frenzy.
Cal was led by the stellar play of senior outside hitter Higgins, who had 22 kills and helped the Bears’ offense find a rhythm with an .295 hitting percentage, while the Trojans had a hitting percentage of .241. Cal also tallied 74 kills, while USC only managed 61. Four Bears finished with double-digit kills: Higgins, redshirt junior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise (a career-high 21), junior middle blocker Vukasovic (14) and Gombar (13). Schonewise also led the team with a .471 hitting percentage.
There had already been three missed field goals in Cal football’s fourth game of the season, this time against Colorado. So when Bears kicker James Langford trotted out to try a 34-yard game-winning field goal — he had already missed a 42-yarder — fans didn’t know what to expect. But as fans at Memorial Stadium held their breath during the second overtime, Langford easily nailed the ball right through the uprights, giving Cal a 59-56 win that marked the team’s third win of the year and first Pac-12 win since Oct. 13, 2012.
The first quarter ended with the Bears down 21-7, and despite adding seven points, the Bears still trailed by two touchdowns, 28-14, going into the second half. Buffaloes quarterback Sefo Liufau terrorized the Cal defense with short passes that got key yards and helped keep the chains moving down the field. The Bears struggled, looking slow and having trouble tackling.
But as the Bears ran back out onto the field after halftime, the team had a different kind of energy. On its first drive, Cal went 61 yards down the field in five plays and 1:39 largely off of a long 21-yard run by Daniel Lasco. Cal’s next drive, which took 2:38 to go down the field in seven plays in 49 yards, also ended with a touchdown. All of a sudden, the game was tied. On Colorado’s next two drives, the Cal defense that had been having trouble in the first half came up with two big stops.
With less than three minutes left, Colorado scored to send the game into overtime, where the Bears struck first with a nice touchdown throw from Jared Goff to Bryce Treggs. Colorado then followed suit with a touchdown of its own. Colorado then couldn’t get points on the board, despite having the ball on the Cal 1-yard line, and then, after two Lasco runs for 9 total yards, Langford came out for the kick.
Lasco was the star of the game, with his 18 carries for 108 yards helping the Bears to turn the game around. While he didn’t have a rushing touchdown, he caught a short pass that he then ran into the end zone, making a 92-yard completion that is now the Bears’ longest touchdown connection in Cal history.
The Bears would just barely miss out on bowl eligibility, finishing the season 5-7.
Record finishes for two Cal cross country athletes
While neither the men’s or women’s cross country teams managed to qualify for the NCAA championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, the two Bears teams were able to each send an individual competitor: junior Chris Walden and freshman Bethan Knights, respectively. And both Walden and Knights had huge performances for Cal that hinted at big futures for these two stars.
Walden, who finished the race in 17th place, became the highest-finishing Cal male in 30 years — Tom Downs had consecutive top-15 finishes in both 1981 and 1982. Knights, who placed 25th, became the Bears’ highest-finishing freshman of all time. Both were named NCAA All-Americans, a distinction that goes to the race’s top-40 finishers.
“Chris Walden ran his greatest race ever,” said head coach Tony Sandoval to Cal Athletics.
Walden ran a tough race, staying in the front pack for the race — he was in fourth place until the final 2,000 meters of the 10,000 meters, where he faltered a bit and couldn’t stay with the race’s leaders. Knights ran a steadier race, not as flashy, but her fast pace and smart racing strategy helped her secure a big personal victory.
“She’s raced all year with poise and toughness that is unusual for such a newcomer, and today was no exception,” Sandoval said to Cal Athletics.
Knights had to step up and lead the team after a foot injury sidelined Cal star Kelsey Santisteban, who took home 10th place at last year’s NCAA championships. Santisteban is currently taking a redshirt year but expects to be back next year.