Too often, the quality of a collegiate athletic program focuses solely on the success of its football and basketball teams. This is especially true if the only data the school focuses on is total revenue, average attendance at games, success (or even entrance) in the March Madness bracket or a win at a bowl game. By these measures, spectators would have decided that Cal sports had a bad year.
The football team ended its season with a sub-.500 record, losing four particularly embarrassing games at the end of the season by double digits. Sonny Dykes, the now-former head coach, was fired by the school and replaced by Justin Wilcox, who will need to work some magic in order to reinvigorate the team.
Men’s hoops started the season with a promising winning streak that it was ultimately unable to sustain. The season ended with a sham effort in the first round of the NIT, losing at home as the No. 1 seed the day before former head coach Cuonzo Martin resigned to leave for Missouri.
But what is frequently forgotten is that those are only two of the 28 varsity sports that Cal claims. And in the most recent years, it has been water sports that have enjoyed the most success of the group. Cal aquatics does not get an appropriate level of recognition for its accomplishments.
If not for the huge Olympic rings tattooed on his back, there would be very few people on campus that would walk by Ryan Murphy and identify him as the swimmer who won three gold medals in Rio, breaking the world record in the 100-meter backstroke. In ancient Greece, olympic athletes were viewed as semi-deities. On Cal’s campus, Ryan Murphy isn’t even acknowledged as much as Kameron Rooks, who averaged less than five points per game for men’s basketball.
Men’s swimming and diving went the entire season ranked No. 1 and got the second-place title at the NCAAs. (Football was never ranked during the season, and basketball just made the last spot of the Top 25 early in the season.)
The Bears’ swimming program also has the highest concentration of Olympic athletes at the school. Together, current students and alumni of the program earned nearly 20 medals at the 2016 Olympics — a competition among the best athletes not just in the national collegiate circuit, but around the world. The coaching staff is so experienced that after graduation, swimmers that have decided to go pro continue to train with the undergraduate team. There’s nowhere better they could go.
The men’s head coach David Durden has been with the program for 10 years. This past summer, he was the assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team and will be the head coach for Team USA at the FINA World Championships for the second time this coming summer.
In a similar vein, the men’s water polo head coach Kirk Everist has been with the team for 15 seasons and produced three NCAA titles, including one in 2016. Since 2009, the women’s swimming and diving team has been ranked among the top-three teams nationally, and its coach of 25 years, Teri McKeever, is considered one of the most influential swimming mentors in the world. Just like Durden, she has been involved with coaching (as both a head coach and assistant) the women’s U.S. Olympic and World Championship teams since the early 2000s. Much of the success of the aquatics programs can be owed to the consistency and prowess of the coaching staff.
All of these facts go unknown to almost anyone who is not actively invested in the sport. If I hadn’t received men’s swimming as an assignment, I’m not sure I’d know.
The statement “Cal sports had a bad year” needs to be qualified. Football had a bad year. Basketball had a bad year.
While aquatics often fall on the periphery, if you widen your field of vision, you can come to appreciate the successes of the traditionally less-heralded programs. Besides, with the Bay always in sight from campus, it should feel like prophecy fulfilled every time our aquatics teams win a national title or earn a shiny medal.
Contact Lucy Schaefer at [email protected]
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Cal men’s basketball team was not nationally ranked in the 2016-2017 season. In fact, it was ranked 25th in Week 2 of the AP Top 25 Poll.