The Bears of Summer

Softball

After just missing out on the Women’s College World Series in 2010, the Cal softball team seemed poised to take the next step in 2011.

However, when Valerie Arioto — who split time between pitcher and first base and was devastating from both the circle and the plate — went out for the season due to injury, many questioned if the Bears could repeat their success.

They answered that question with a forceful yes, ending a six-year drought from the College World Series.

Much of the Bears’ rise can be attributed to sophomore Jolene Henderson, who was nearly unhittable in the circle. After splitting some time with Arioto, Henderson came into her own in 2011, boasting a 40-10 record and a sub-1.00 ERA.

Henderson was a the team’sworkhorse, logging 330 innings on the season  (surpassing most starting NCAA pitchers by about 100 innings) and 18 shutouts.

Arioto’s absence was clear at the plate, as they often struggled to give Henderson substantial run support. Cal found itself trying to manufacture runs in opportunistic settings, exemplified by outfielder Jamia Reid’s 31 steals on the season.

Once they reached the World Series, the Bears saw their season come to a close at the hands of Florida for the third time in four years

But with a top-10 recruiting class coming in and the long-awaited return of Arioto, Cal softball looks poised for even greater things in 2012.

— Connor Byrne

Men’s Tennis

On May 13, when the rest of campus officially finished spring semester, the No. 14 Cal men’s tennis team began the most important part of the 2010-2011 season. For the first time since 2003, the Bears hosted the Regionals round of NCAA Championships, where they notched wins over Marist and Fresno State.

Coach Peter Wright called the 4-3 overturn of Fresno State “one of the most challenging and exciting matches I’ve seen in the last five years.” After losing the doubles point, the Bears and Bulldogs traded wins up and down all six singles courts before rising junior Riki McLachlan narrowly defeated his opponent in three sets. His win clinched the victory for Cal and sent the squad to its first sweet 16 appearance in eight years.

Although a 4-2 loss to No. 3 Tennessee on May 19 ensured a premature end to the season, the Bears were nonetheless satisfied with their postseason run. After all, the last time the squad saw play that deep was during a 2003 drive to the quarterfinals.

Even though the season was over for the team, rising senior Nick Andrews and  junior Christoffer Konigsfeldt competed one week later in the NCAA Doubles Championships; however, the No. 23 tandem lost in the first round to Florida’s No. 17 duo of Sekou Bangoura Jr. and Alexander Lacroix.

This past season dismissed any questions Wright had about the abilities and potential of his team.

“It was a question about where the program is going: were we going to get to the sweet 16?” Wright said. “We needed to get back there. It was a big challenge but our guys pushed hard.”

— Annie Gerlach

Mike Morrison

Traditionally, the winner of the decathlon is given the title, “World’s Greatest Athlete.”

That would make Mike Morrison the collegiate world’s greatest athlete.

Cal’s track and field star won the NCAA decathlon title on June 10 at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. Morrison finished with personal bests in six of the 10 events and set a school record with 8,118 points, edging out Duke’s Curtis Beach, who had 8,084 points.

As a junior in 2010, Morrison was the national runner-up in the decathlon. He finally claimed the crown as a senior, becoming the fourth Cal athlete to win the decathlon title.

On the first day of competition, Morrison set three personal records — 24-8.25 in the long jump, 42-8.00 in shot put and 48.06 in the 400 meters. The next day, his personal best mark of 127-2 in the discus vaulted him from fourth place into second. He also set a personal record in the javelin, with a mark of 198-4 in his first attempt, before storms stopped action. On the final day, Morrison ran his fastest 1500 meters, with a time of 4:35.35, to clinch the crown.

His performance at the NCAAs earned him first-team All-American status.

No doubt, Morrison’s graduation leave a sizable void on the Cal track and field squad. But a solid recruiting class, which includes five high school state champions and the junior college discus champion, should help make up for the loss.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

Jana Juricova

Just a week after the Cal women’s tennis team exited in the third round of the NCAA Team Championships, Jana Juricova won the singles title to end the season on the high note last May.
As the first two-time NCAA champion, Juricova won the title after defeating Stanford’s Stacey Tan, 6-0, 7-6 (2), at Tan’s home court in Taube Tennis Center.

The Slovak Republic native is just the second Bear to win the single’s crown: former Cal standout Susie Babos won it in 2006 also at Taube Tennis Center.

The big win should come as no surprise  — the rising senior was ranked No. 1 in the nation. She also got it done in the classroom, earning her second first-team Pac-10 All-Academic nod.

Juricova  also advanced to the semifinals of the doubles championships alongside senior Mari Andersson but lost against the Cardinal’s Hilary Barte and Mallory Burdette.

After losing Andersson, Juricova will play with another doubles partner for the first time. With coach Amanda Augustus focused this summer on finding Juricova’s complement, the Bears are in a transitional season in which young players like Anett Schutting and Annie Goransson will fill Andersson’s shoes.

Despite the loss of Andersson, Juricova returns to the top court  for her senior campaign to defend her singles title and seek a team crown.

— Seung Y. Lee

Rugby

It’s rare that the Cal rugby team isn’t the favorite to win the national title.

Despite being defending champions, the Bears were the clear underdogs to a BYU squad heralded as possibly the best in the school’s history. After playing title games at Stanford for several years, Cal had to take on the Cougars in the heart of BYU territory in Sandy, Utah, for the May 21st title game. None of that mattered to coach Jack Clark’s squad, which played its most disciplined and organized rugby of the year to convincingly take the crown, 21-14, for the program’s 26th national title.

It was more than the formidable BYU team and hostile environment that seemed to stack the deck against the Bears, who battled off the field distractions throughout the year.

Cal (27-0, 10-0 in the CPD) entered the postseason with lackluster 43-10 quarterfinal win over Life University that left Clark wondering when he would see his team play to its true potential. He didn’t have to wait long, as the Bears came out firing on all cylinders against Utah in the semifinals, with the 62-14 win propelling the team into the title game.

At first, Cal didn’t seem to carry that momentum into the final match, spending the first 20 minutes on defense. Eventually turning BYU away with nothing, the Bears went on the attack and didn’t look back.

Behind two penalty kicks by Player of the Match James Bailes, Cal took a slight 13-7 advantage into halftime, which was extended to 14 points in the second half. The Cougars added a converted try to pull within seven. BYU seemed poised to tie during injury time, but each time the Bears were able to force errors or simply overpower their stout opponent.

— Christina Jones

Alex Morgan

It’s halftime at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final. The game is tied 0-0. The U.S. Women’s national team insert Alex Morgan into the lineup after an injury to forward Lauren Cheney.

With only 45 minutes left, not many expected the rookie forward to come in and completely change the match.

She did.

It was Morgan’s goal that gave the U.S. the lead over Japan and it was her assist that set up Abby Wambach for what seemed to be the game winner in overtime. Yet, the Japanese women’s national team somehow managed to claw its way back and win in gut-wrenching penalty kicks.

Despite the loss in the final, the U.S. women, led  by Wambach, veteran goalkeeper Hope Solo and super sub Morgan had already captured the hearts and attention of the country after the exciting win over powerhouse Brazil in the semifinals.

Morgan and company were welcomed back from Germany as stars. They set the records for tweets per minute on Twitter during the final match. Rumors were spreading that this Cal alumna would have her own reality show. And several high profile sponsors and appearances this summer solidified that Morgan’s newfound light isn’t going to flicker anytime soon.

With the London Olympics looming next year, fans and neutrals alike can now expect Morgan to start making the impact in the full 90 minute game.

— Camellia Senemar

Baseball

I don’t care if I live to be 100; Cal baseball’s run to the College World Series was the greatest single season of sports I will ever see.

A little bold, maybe, but I doubt I’ll ever see another team get sentenced to death, save itself, then fighting off elimination game after elimination game. Let’s recap exactly what happened.

On Sept. 28, the administration decided to cut five varsity sports, including baseball. In a shocker of an announcement, it looked like the spring of 2011 was the end of the line for the 118-year-old program.

The players swore they would end the season in Omaha, a claim any team would make in the face of program elimination. Even after the program was reinstated in early April, the Cal baseball team followed through with its promise.

Despite losing four out of their last five regular season games and their first game in the Houston Regional, the Bears rattled off four consecutive victories to stave off elimination, capped with a thrilling 9-8 victory over Baylor to clinch a spot in the NCAA Super Regional.

With fans packing the stands for the Super Regional at Santa Clara, the Bears swept away upstart Dallas Baptist for its first College World Series berth since 1992. Despite an unceremonious end at the hands of top-ranked Virginia, the Cal baseball team remained the talk of Omaha.

There was death, then life, and with the first World Series berth in almost two decades, the 2011 Cal baseball team reached immortality.

— Jack Wang