Spring 2016 Cal sports preview

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1. Men’s basketball

Coming off the heels of a one-point upset over No. 12 Arizona at Haas Pavilion and a loss to Utah on Wednesday, the Cal men’s basketball team is off to an exciting, if perplexing, Pac-12 season. After a nonconference season that left the Bears with few bragging points, the new year has given the squad resume-building wins over the Wildcats as well as formerly-No. 21 Utah. But between those two matchups, Cal (14-7, 4-4 Pac-12) suffered a three-game losing streak on the road that raised questions about how the Bears, picked by some to come out on top in the Pac-12, would ultimately stack up in a conference that is beginning to look like it’s anyone’s for the taking. That uncertainty was increased Jan. 19, when it was announced that senior guard Tyrone Wallace would be out for four to six weeks after sustaining a wrist injury during practice. Luckily for Cal, guard Jordan Mathews — who contributed 28 points against Arizona — along with the continued strong performances of freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb — appear to be filling the gap for the program, which remains undefeated at home.

— Dani Jo Coony

2. Women’s basketball

The Cal women’s basketball team had a promising start to its season, rolling through the nonconference schedule with a 9-2 record. The Bears looked poised to work past their inexperience with their senior-less roster to not only reach the NCAA Tournament but to contend in a stacked Pac-12 conference.

But once the conference season finally tipped off, Cal’s lack of depth and youth were exploited. The Bears (10-9) have won only one of their eight conference games so far and sit in 11th place in the Pac-12.

Cal currently sits well out of a range where it can possibly expect to reach the NCAA Tournament. The Bears have 10 games left to try to make an impression on the selection committee for the NCAA Tournament. Cal does have some things working in their favor, in that seven of these games will be played at Haas Pavilion and that it will usually have the most talented player on either team in freshman forward Kristine Anigwe, the Pac-12’s second-leading scorer.

With these advantages and a third of the season to go, the Bears’ NCAA Tournament dreams aren’t gone yet, but they will have to play at a level they haven’t reached all season to avoid hearing the dreaded “There’s always next year.”

— Hooman Yazdanian

3. Baseball 

Coming off last season’s frustrating and short-lived playoff run, the No. 9 Bears are looking to come out the gates swinging to prove that their 36-21 record last season was not a fluke. Cal is making the jump from being unranked at the end of the 2015 season to being thrown into the mix with some of the bigger baseball programs in the country, even outranking last year’s national champion, Virginia, by four spots, according to D1Baseball.com.

The Bears will be retaining the majority of last year’s team that helped net the second-most wins in program history since 1991. Among those will be three key starting pitchers in Matt Ladrech, Daulton Jefferies and Ryan Mason, who threw a combined 216 innings of 2.86 ERA ball. Power-hitting Devin Pearson and speedster Aaron Knapp look to anchor the Bears offense, which will be looking to compensate for the loss of slugging first baseman Chris Paul to the 2015 MLB draft.

The returning players, as well as several new freshmen, will be looking to lead Cal back to the College World Series for the first time since 2011.

— Chris Valentino Tril

4. Softball

As the No. 21 Cal women’s softball team prepares for another spring season, it is hoping that its young roster will have the ability to fill the gaps of recently departed players such as Danielle Henderson and Cheyenne Cordes. With nine new players, the Bears are looking to combine newly acquired firepower with the steady talents of returners such as Taurie Pogue and Jazmyn Jackson.

The incoming season brings a tough 55-game schedule that begins with a bang against fierce competition in the form of a tournament in Tempe, Arizona. The team will have very little down time as they compete in five large-scale tournaments and multiple home and away series against strong Pac-12 opponents such as No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 UCLA.

The Bears will be looking to make more of this season than last year’s, when they finished 39-18, but this will require them to clean up some of the small mistakes that cost them games last season. Tightening up and perfecting some of the smaller pieces of their play will lead to overall success and could result in a triumphant NCAA tournament performance at the close of the season.

— Sophie Goethals

5. Rugby

After an undefeated 7’s campaign in the fall semester, the Cal men’s rugby team has begun its 15s portion of the schedule, hoping to improve upon 2015’s 17-2 record. Led by three first team All-Americans, the Bears will try to break a streak that has seen them lose to BYU in the finals of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup National Rugby Championships in three consecutive years. With all three of those All-Americans set to graduate after this season, the pressure is on the team to deliver on its first 15s title since 2011.

The season opened on a promising note, as the Bears won all four of their matches in the Dennis Storer Classic by a combined score of 201-0 for their 11th consecutive title at the event. Not letting any of the teams score — including a strong UCLA team playing on its home pitch — is quite the feat.

Tough matchups with rugby powerhouses Air Force and Utah loom on the schedule, but the Bears’ ultimate goal of a national championship goes through BYU. The championship finals are May 7. No one should be surprised if that date is circled somewhere in Cal head coach Jack Clark’s office.

— Andrew Wild