1. Campus cuts — then reinstates — five teams
It was supposed to be the only viable option.
Sandy Barbour looked grim. Chancellor Birgeneau smiled through it. On Sept. 28, 2010, Cal shockingly eliminated five varsity teams: baseball, rugby, lacrosse, and men’s and women’s gymnastics would no longer represent the campus.
Rumors had swirled over the summer, but only concerning the fate of the two gymnastics programs. Barbour, the athletic director, had responded then with a general statement that nearly all sports were potentially at risk. No one knew yet just how serious she was.
Almost without warning, the five teams were given one final season to live. So, the teams fought back.
By February, rugby had raised almost $10 million, enough to bring back both itself, women’s gymnastics and lacrosse. No longer eliminating any women’s squads, the campus could leave out baseball and men’s gym and still remain in Title IX compliance without managing rosters. That was what it did.
Then, the baseball team did the unthinkable. Spurred by former pitcher and current San Francisco attorney Stu Gordon, fundraising efforts gained new steam. A little over a month later, the Bears had gathered over $9 million in pledges. Birgeneau agreed to bring them back. Weeks later, he did the same for men’s gymnastics.
The administration avoided some embarrassment. In May, the rugby team gutted out its 26th national championship. In June, the baseball team ended arguably its greatest season ever in the College World Series.
Next spring, both teams — along with the three others — will be back for more.
— Jack Wang
2. Baseball’s season for the ages
A few days after the greatest comeback in Cal baseball history, coach David Esquer noted that first baseman Devon Rodriguez’s game-winning single against Baylor did more than clinch the Houston regional for the Bears.
It changed his life forever.
But Rodriguez’s is not the only life that was irrevocably altered when the program rose from the brink of elimination to make a remarkable College World Series run — it was a year of crushing defeats, stunning victories and an enduring hope that sustained everything around it.
First, there is Esquer himself, a coach who pieced together 12 mediocre seasons at Cal before being surprised with the Coach of the Year award while in Omaha. No matter his cumulative legacy, his name will now forever be etched alongside the team that he helped hold together in the toughest of times.
Then, there’s senior outfielder Austin Booker, who had almost no shot at being drafted at the beginning of the season. Three years of sporadic play hardly recommended him but, after a standout year with the darling of college baseball, he now finds himself with the A’s.
Of course, there’s second baseman Tony Renda. The steely heart of the team, Renda honored his father’s memory by winning Pac-10 Player of the Year less than a year after his passing. Renda, now a junior, will be the face of the Bears — who return many key starters — next year.
And finally, there are the friends, family and fans who tasted so much bitter in order to appreciate the sweet aftertaste that now lingers in their mouths.
— Katie Dowd
3. Football’s first losing season under Tedford
Cal’s football 2010 season began with Keenan Allen scampering his way around hapless UC Davis defenders.
It finished on a more somber note.
With the final play on a rainy November afternoon at Memorial Stadium, Washington tailback Chris Polk slithered into the end zone to hand the Bears a season-ending home defeat — and Jeff Tedford his first-ever losing campaign in nine years as Cal’s head coach.
Like their heartbreaking season finale, the Bears’ erratic campaign featured no shortage of frustration.
Cal’s offense struggled to find much consistency with Kevin Riley at quarterback, but became downright listless after the fifth-year senior suffered a season-ending knee injury in Corvallis, Ore. With Brock Mansion starting under center for the final four games, the Bears’ anemic attack failed to score more than 20 points.
Even the defense, which emerged as the conference’s top overall unit under first-year coordinator Clancy Pendergast, turned in clunkers during blowout losses to Stanford, USC, Nevada and Oregon State.
In the end, the numbers and milestones weren’t pretty: The worst Big Game defeat since 1930. No bowl game appearance for the first time since 2002. No victories over an FBS team with a winning record. Three deficits of at least five touchdowns.
A lot will change for Cal this upcoming season. The team has new coaches, a new home at AT&T Park and even two new conference-mates. Whether the Bears can change their record back to the right side of .500 remains to be seen.
— Ed Yevelev
4. Cal sweeps college swimming
Charlie Sheen would be proud, indeed. Cal swimming wasn’t just winning in the pool in 2011 — it was “bi-winning.”
The Bears’ women’s squad began the trend by capturing an NCAA title for the second time in three years, only one week before the men snapped their 31-year championship drought and snagged a trophy of their own.
By the end of day two at nationals, Cal’s women jumped out of fourth place to take control of the tournament. Senior Amanda Sims won her second career 100-yard butterfly title, while freshman Cindy Tran took the 100-yard backstroke. The Bears also captured three relays on the way to a school-record total of 424 points, almost 30 ahead of second-place Georgia.
The top-ranked men’s team quickly followed suit. Senior Nathan Adrian took the 50-yard freestyle in an American-record time of 18.66 and the Bears won the 400-yard medley relay for the second year in a row with a pool-record 3:02.28.
Day two was sheer domination by Cal, with Damir Dugonjic winning the 100-yard breaststroke for the third straight year, Tom Shields taking the backstroke and Cal claiming the 200-yard medley relay to finish off the day in front.
Then Adrian — who earlier in the day won his second title of the tournament in the 100-yard freestyle — took command of the last leg of the 400 free relay and secured the Bears’ first NCAA title in over three decades.
— Ricardo Barton
5. Jill Costello leaves a lasting legacy
In the world of athletics where most of us are so focused on an athlete’s game accomplishments, Jill Costello will be remembered for a feat that had little to do with sports.
During a courageous year-long battle with Stage IV lung cancer, the late Cal coxswain devoted her last few months to raising public awareness about an illness that has been long stigmatized as simply a “smoker’s disease.”
Costello and the Bonnie J. Addario Foundation joined together to create the “Jog for Jill” 5K event to raise money and educate others in the fight against lung cancer. Although Costello attended the first annual “Jog for Jill” event last February, she passed away last June. On Sunday, Sept. 12, over 3,000 people gathered at Golden State Park in San Francisco to participate in the second annual “Jog for Jill.”
All of Cal’s athletic teams participated — including the baseball team, whose players ran in honor of Frank Renda, the father of second baseman Tony Renda who, like Costello, passed away last summer due to lung cancer.
The event raised nearly $350,000 and helped increase awareness that the disease can afflict not only smokers, but anyone like Costello.
Like last year, 2011’s “Jog for Jill” will be held on September 18, at Golden Gate Park.
— Seung Y. Lee
6. Volleyball’s run to the NCAA final
Even though Cal’s volleyball team had never advanced to the national title match before 2010, the squad’s fall campaign was not all that improbable.
After all, the Bears were led by the National Player of the Year in senior setter Carli Lloyd. She may have been a freshman when Cal reached the Final Four in 2007, but she was an integral part of that team and had a burning desire to get back to the big stage.
The squad instituted a new offensive scheme in 2010, with quick passes and fewer high lobs. It worked to perfection. After two perhaps underachieving seasons, outside hitter Tarah Murrey became one of the country’s best players, ranking third in the nation with 5.23 kills per set.
Cal also blew open matches with its suffocating defense, averaging over three blocks per set.
The Bears’ preseason performance — losing only one set — was just a hint of things to come. Aside from a pair of losses to USC, Rich Feller’s club had a nearly spotless conference record, including the team’s first season sweep of Stanford since 1979.
Cal’s first two rounds of the NCAA tournament were a breeze. The regional semifinal and final were more challenging, but nothing the Bears couldn’t conquer. It was onto the Final Four to face the Trojans — the only team that had given the Bears trouble. No matter. Cal swept them.
Then came the true problem: Penn State. The Nittany Lions had knocked the Bears out of the tournament ever year since … well, seemingly forever. Cal played a heavily contested match, but ultimately fell in straight sets, 25-20, 27-25, 25-20.
Still, the Bears’ run solidified their status as a national powerhouse and serious championship contender for many years to come.
— Jonathan Kuperberg
7. Softball advances to first Women’s College World Series since 2005
Ever since Cal softball captured the 2002 Women’s College World Series title, the squad has been working to paint another title win on the back fence of Levine-Fricke Field.
For the past six years, however, the Bears could not even make the final eight in Oklahoma City.
That is, until sophomore ace Jolene Henderson and her scrappy teammates handily beat Kentucky 9-0 in this year’s Lexington Super Regional to end that drought and advance to the WCWS.
The road up until that point had not been easy for Cal.
All-American pitcher and first baseman Valerie Arioto suffered a season-ending injury in the second practice of the year, creating a void in the infield and leaving the lineup without its strongest bat.
The start of conference play didn’t go smoothly, either, as the Bears dropped four of their first six Pac-10 games. Despite that slow start, the team picked itself up and turned the season around.
Henderson stepped into the circle as the starting pitcher in Arioto’s absence and dominated the national stage as one of the country’s best pitchers. In over 333 innings tallied throughout the year, the workhorse turned in 18 shutouts and championed an ERA under 1.00.
Anchored by Henderson’s arm, Cal surpassed preseason predictions to finish second in the Pac-10.
Although the run to the WCWS championship game was cut short against Florida, Cal returns every single player next season — including a now-healthy Arioto.
With Henderson and Arioto on the rubber, the Bears may indeed have a title in their future.
— Kelly Suckow
8. Men’s soccer goes from worst to first in Pac-10
In 2009, injuries plagued the Cal men’s soccer team, pushing them to dead last in the Pac-10 when conference play concluded.
This past fall, the squad bounced back in a big way.
Led by a starting front of eight seniors, the Bears (14-2-4) clinched the program’s third Pac-10 title — its first since 2007 — in front of a large crowd at Edwards Stadium. In addition to the conference trophy, the Bears garnered six All-Pac-10 spots. Head coach Kevin Grimes earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year and senior defender A.J. Soares won Player of the Year.
2010’s memorable season didn’t stop there, however, as the team matched its deepest postseason in program history to finish No. 8 in the country.
Cal earned home field advantage for its first postseason contest against UC Santa Barbara. In the final second of overtime, senior forward Davis Paul knocked through a last-second golden goal to eliminate the Gauchos in a nail-biting 2-1 victory.
A 2-0 win over a gritty Brown defense in the third round of the NCAA College Cup sent the Bears to Ohio for the quarterfinals against the host Akron. That dream run ended when the Zips handed the Bears a 3-2 loss in penalty kicks.
With six players from the squad now plying their trade in the MLS, Cal’s magical 2010 season will be a tough one to repeat.
— Kelly Suckow
9. Mike Morrison and Jana Juricova win national titles
In 2011, a pair of accomplished athletes finally hunted down the NCAA championship trophies missing from the hardware collection they’ve accrued over their Cal careers.
Mike Morrison captured the men’s title in the decathlon, while Juricova took home the NCAA Singles crown — making her the first player in Cal women’s tennis history to win a title in both singles and doubles.
Morrison has been upstaged the past three years by three-time decathlon champion Ashton Eaton of Oregon. Last year, Morrison finished second despite tearing a ligament in his elbow during the javelin throw. After a long road of recovery during the following summer and fall, the Florida transfer hit his peak performance at the end of this season by setting six personal bests on the way to a Cal-record 8,118 points.
“I came into college with the goal of winning an NCAA championship, this is what I’ve been working for for five years,” said Morrison, the nation’s point leader even before NCAAs. “To accomplish it is really rewarding.”
Juricova, who entered the NCAA Championships as the nation’s top seed, triumphed over Cardinal sophomore Stacey Tan, 6-0, 7-6 (2). Juricova, however, still has one more goal to complete her legacy: a team title.
— Byron Atashian
10. Men’s and women’s water polo are NCAA runners-up
Both of Cal’s water polo squads reached their national title games, finishing one win away each from a potential aquatics “grand slam”.
The men came within minutes of the program’s 14th championship and the women ended their greatest season in history by falling short in their NCAA title game debut.
In a classic match that took place under nightmarish Berkeley rainfall, the No. 2 Cal men’s team battled relentlessly against top-ranked USC — the two-time defending champions,
With 5:02 left in regulation, Cutino Award winner Ivan Rackov gave the Bears a 10-9 lead. Cal, however, lost that lead about a minute later to a penalty shot that forced overtime. Failing to score in the extra period, the Bears allowed two goals and the Trojans got the 12-10 win, the three-peat and a chance to celebrate in Cal’s home pool.
Only one season after ending a near-decade-long drought of playing the NCAA tournament, the women’s team reached new heights with a young squad. Led by sophomore star Breda Vosters, who poured in 63 goals in 2011, Cal put together a banner year that also featured their first-ever MPSF tournament crown.
In what may have been a case of the championship jitters, the No. 2 Bears went down 4-1 by halftime. The deficit proved too much to overcome and their season came to a close with a 9-5 loss against top-ranked Stanford.
Both squads return loaded and should have redemption on their minds in 2011-2012.
— Ricardo Barton