Best Coach: Kevin Grimes (men’s soccer)
A great player does not always make for a great coach, but in the case of Kevin Grimes, the two are not mutually exclusive.
Like his players, Grimes is not short of accolades. He has won Pac-10 coach of the year five times and has led Cal to Pac-10 titles in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
A defender himself, Grimes cultivated the Cal men’s soccer team into a goal-saving machine, and, as a result, the team lost only five games this season. Even in defeat, the Bears maintained their defensive composure, conceding no more than two goals per game.
Directing the team to a 12-game unbeaten streak, Grimes was also there to pick up the players when they stumbled to their first loss, against San Diego State. His leadership ensured that the Bears continued to fight for an NCAA title when their hopes of a Pac-12 title were over.
This season is Grimes’ 14th with the Bears, and they will no doubt look forward to his 15th. Grimes leads by example, and with his composure in both victory and defeat, he ensured that the Cal soccer team had a commendable season.
— Daniella Mogilner
Best Coach Honorable Mention: Teri McKeever (women’s swim)
While only halfway through the season, Cal women’s swim head coach Teri McKeever has put Cal in great shape for another chance at the NCAA title.
Over the past five years, McKeever has won the NCAA team title three times. With so much talent on her team, it would be easy to coast to the NCAAs, but McKeever is always thinking strategically. Even during dual meets early in the regular season, McKeever plays around with which swimmers should swim which events and what the order for the relays should be, all with the idea of testing the swimmers and prepping the team for the NCAA Championships in March.
This year, in a dual meet against Florida, McKeever asked Missy Franklin to swim the 1,000-yard freestyle, even though her specialty is backstroke and she typically swims much shorter distances. Franklin won, and Cal pulled off a huge victory over Florida, which was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time and which Cal will have to overcome at the NCAAs.
Cal’s success also comes from McKeever acting as a mentor and encouraging her team. For instance, McKeever has been largely responsible for the development of Celina Li, whose versatility makes her an important player in the team’s NCAA hopes.
McKeever’s skills are even recognized internationally. In 2012, she was the first woman to be named head coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s swim team.
— Shannon Carroll
Even on a team littered with national team players and future pros, Emily Kruger found a way to stand out.
The senior goalkeeper played in 18 games this season for the Cal women’s soccer team and posted an impressive 0.80 goals against average and .840 save percentage. Her ability to prevent opposing teams from scoring played a vital role in Cal’s 13-match unbeaten streak to start the season, a run that saw the program rise all the way to No. 8 in the national rankings.
Kruger’s positive energy and commanding presence in the box made her an obvious choice to be captain of head coach Neil McGuire’s side this year. The senior provided valuable leadership from between the posts, constantly barking orders at her teammates in front of her to keep them organized. When the ball did get through, Kruger utilized her outstanding reflexes and tall 5-foot-11 frame to keep opposing strikers off the score sheet. Her skills as a shot-stopper were complemented by a cool head and the ability to distribute the ball well out of the back.
Kruger’s contributions to the Cal women’s soccer program started early, as she was named the starter in her first year in Berkeley. Four years later, Kruger graduates as the program’s all-time saves leader. She led her team to the postseason every year of her Cal career, and she also holds the honor of being a three-time member of the All-Pac 12 Academic Team.
In her four years at Cal, Kruger has proven to have the complete package, earning her the status of one of the best goalkeepers in the country.
— Josh Netter
Best Female Athlete Honorable Mention: Elizabeth Pelton (women’s swim)
On a team filled with as much talent and depth as the Cal women’s swim team, it would be easy for even a talented swimmer to fade into the background. Instead, Elizabeth Pelton has thrived.
As a freshman, she won the NCAA Championship in the 200-yard backstroke, placed second in both the 200-yard individual medley and the 200-yard freestyle and was named Swimmer of the Meet. Now, as a sophomore, Pelton looks even stronger.
Recently, in the 200-yard backstroke at the AT&T Winter National Championships, Pelton beat teammate Missy Franklin, the world-record holder in the 200-meter backstroke, the first time the two had gone head to head in the 200-yard backstroke. Pelton also finished second in the 100-yard backstroke and first in the 200-yard IM at the Winter Nationals.
Pelton has suffered disappointment. At the 2012 Olympic trials, she finished third in the 200-meter backstroke — behind Franklin and close friend Elizabeth Beisel — and in the 200-meter individual medley, where only the top two swimmers qualified for the Olympics. Still, she hasn’t let the disappointment deter her and has really pushed herself this year.
The standout from Maryland brings energy to the pool but is laid back when not in heavily chlorinated water. She has emerged as a leader, a key piece in head coach Teri McKeever’s plans to bring home yet another NCAA title.
The team will need Pelton and her power if it is going to win another NCAA team title. After Cal’s second-place finish last year, Pelton has her eyes on the prize.
— Shannon Carroll
Best Male Athlete: Steve Birnbaum (men’s soccer)
Another season, another accolade for Cal men’s soccer defender Steve Birnbaum. The senior has been breaking records and winning awards since his freshman year, and this season was arguably his best yet.
A semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy — the highest individual intercollegiate award — and a finalist for the Soccer News Net College Boot Player of the Year, Birnbaum is inundated with accomplishments.
For Birnbaum, performing in his assigned role is not enough. He aims to excel on all areas of the field. A defender by trade, he does not limit himself to staying back.
He scored the most goals this season for the Bears. It is Birnbaum and his level head that step up to take penalty kicks, and it is usually this same head that directs corner kicks toward the back of the net.
When Birnbaum is absent, Cal suffers. Last year, he picked up an ankle injury at the start of the season, and the Bears floundered. This year, Birnbaum missed two of the five games in which Cal lost, a statistic that stands alone in demonstrating his importance to the team.
An athlete of the highest caliber and a captain that leads from the front, Birnbaum will be sorely missed as he looks to continue his soccer career in the MLS.
— Daniella Mogilner
Best Male Athlete Honorable Mention: Vince D’Amato (football)
I know you’re tired of hearing about that damn fake field goal, but I’m going to bring it up again. Last time, I promise. Somewhat sadly, one of the first plays of this ill-fated Cal season is the most memorable of the entire 1-11 campaign. Right in the center of it was kicker Vince D’Amato, lofting a pass to a wide-open Jackson Bouza, giving the Bears a rare lead over Northwestern in the season opener.
It’s fitting D’Amato stands at the center of one of the season’s few exciting moments. The kicker was one of the team’s lone bright spots, earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 second team by making 85 percent of his field goal attempts. While pretty much everything else went wrong for Cal, D’Amato was a steady presence, pretty much automatic from less than 50 yards.
It’s surprising words such as “steady” and “excel” are associated with D’Amato, all things considered. His Cal career didn’t start on the most promising of terms — in just his second game as a starter in 2012, the then-junior shanked all three of his field goals in a seven-point loss to eventually undefeated Ohio State. His career was almost over before it started. But he bounced back the next week by making three of four and would go on to miss only three field goals for the rest of the year.
Now, D’Amato is looking at a potential career in the NFL. The Cal football season may have been miserable, but D’Amato should walk away happy with his performance.
— Michael Rosen
Best Game: Cal women’s soccer vs. Stanford (women’s soccer)
With its hopes of a Pac-12 Championship dashed and its NCAA Tournament berth in jeopardy, the Cal women’s soccer team entered the final match of the regular season against then-No. 10 Stanford hoping to end on a high note.
Even that goal seemed difficult to reach, as the Cardinal outshot the Bears and held them scoreless. Regulation ended in a stalemate, and with less than two minutes left in the first overtime period, senior midfielder Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick sent a long ball up the field and over the back line of the Stanford defense. Senior forward Rachel Mercik outran the defenders and got her head on the ball a split second before the Cardinal goalkeeper reached it. Mercik sent the ball into the net, staring at it for a split second before registering that she had recorded the deciding goal.
“When it went in, it almost did not seem like it had actually gone in,” Mercik said after the game. “It didn’t seem like we had won.”
Arms triumphantly outstretched, she dashed back toward the Cal bench, intercepted on the way by a wave of Bears surging toward her. Mercik fell to the ground, tackled by her overjoyed teammates.
Mercik’s golden goal was the most thrilling moment of Cal’s season, handing the underdog Bears a victory over their fiercest rival and rejuvenating their postseason aspirations. It was Cal’s first win over Stanford in seven years.
— Taylor Brink
Best Game Honorable Mention: Cal soccer vs. UCLA (men’s soccer)
When Cal men’s soccer traveled to then-No. 6 UCLA on Oct. 13, the Bears were in for the game of the year: a 3-2 overtime win for the Bears on Stefano Bonomo’s golden goal. The contest had a little bit of everything: beautiful headers, perfectly executed free kicks, great combination play, a late-game penalty kick and even some overtime magic.
With both Pac-12 title implications and national rankings on the line, the soccer world turned its attention to the showdown in Westwood.
UCLA got off to a hot start when Victor Chavez headed home a crossing ball to put the Bruins up, 1-0, in the 13th minute. But then Cal responded.
Five minutes later, defender Christian Dean shot a free kick from 25 yards out, deflecting it off the wall and past the Bruin keeper to knot the score up, 1-1.
Once tied, the game settled into combination play — both teams effortlessly moving the ball up the field. It was stretches of gameplay such as the 20th minute to the 40th minute that proved that the Pac-12 conference was one of the top collegiate soccer conferences this season.
Then UCLA scored off the head of Jordan Vale four minutes before the half, putting the Bruins up 2-1. But Cal responded again.
Late in the contest, the referee awarded the Bears a penalty kick. Steve Birnbaum, facing the pressure of the moment, stepped up and calmly netted the equalizer, 2-2.
The game would be decided in stunning fashion in the overtime period. Only 32 seconds in, Bonomo slipped a ball near post for the golden goal, giving Cal the momentous victory.
— Austin Crochetiere
Best Newcomer: Missy Franklin (women’s swim)
Missy Franklin loves to laugh. As the freshman was being recruited a year ago, she pranked Cal women’s swim head coach Teri McKeever with a phone call that led her to believe Franklin was committing to another school, only to have Franklin reveal that she had decided on Cal. At swim meets, Franklin always seems to be joking with teammates and smiling at the large crowds.
And, this year, Franklin sure has a lot to laugh about.
With four Olympic gold medals, it’s hard to imagine what college swimming would have to offer for her. Still, Franklin has effortlessly made the transition to college swimming, laying down fast times and winning important races.
At the AT&T Winter Nationals — one of the most eagerly awaited races of the year — Franklin went head to head with Olympic teammate Katie Ledecky in the 200-yard freestyle and pulled off a decisive victory. Franklin also finished second to Ledecky in the 500-yard freestyle, won the 100-yard backstroke, finished second to teammate Elizabeth Pelton in the 200-yard backstroke and was part of a number of winning relays.
Seemingly always in a good mood, Franklin brings a spark to the team that will help keep spirits high during the long season. Franklin isn’t even close to her peak yet. That will come as she tapers her training in preparation for the NCAAs. When that happens, look for Franklin to add some trophies to that already large trophy case of hers.
— Shannon Carroll
Best Newcomer Honorable Mention: Filip Bergevi (men’s tennis)
Had it not been for a chance meeting with head coach Peter Wright at the U.S. Open Juniors, freshman Filip Bergevi of Cal’s men’s tennis would not have made it to the sunny shores of California. But ever since that fateful day, it has been nothing but good fortune for Bergevi and the team.
The Swedish native has established his presence in both professional-level and collegiate tournaments. Most notably this season, Bergevi scored an upset win over former UCLA star Dennis Novikov, 6-3, 7-6(5), at a challenger tournament in Tiburon in October. He followed this result with a quarterfinal finish at the USTA/ITA Northwest Regionals, knocking out Oregon’s top player, Robin Cambier.
Bergevi’s arrival has strengthened the team’s depth, and as the season of dual matches rolls around, the program is placing high hopes on Bergevi’s contributions. In addition to his strong results in singles, Bergevi brings experience in doubles. As a juniors tennis player, his best Juniors Grand Slam result was a quarterfinals finish in Wimbledon doubles.
Although Bergevi is a freshman, his goal is to join the professional ranks after college. And so far, he has been making great inroads to his — or what many hope to be — decorated tennis career.
— Jennifer Yu
Worst Game: Cal football vs. Stanford (football)
When Andrew Luck and the Stanford football team steamrolled over Cal, 48-14, in the Big Game of my freshman year in 2010, I filed out of Memorial Stadium thinking it couldn’t get any worse than that. It was the worst Big Game loss since 1930, so what were the odds I would live to see this ignominy topped once more?
Well, looks like I was wrong. On Nov. 23, in the Big Game of my senior year, the Bears etched themselves in the record books with a 63-13 loss. It will be a stinker that lives in infamy.
That game was a congregation of all things wrong with Cal football this season. Cal allowed 42 points in the first half. The Bears’ offense went 2-for-13 on third downs. By halftime, Cal fans began realizing this game was shooting for the record books.
I’m graduating in May, and I can now say with bitter affirmation that I never got to see the Axe in my four years here. Past classes have also gone four years without seeing the trophy, but did they witness two of the biggest blowouts in Big Game history? I think not. I — nay, the entire class of 2014 — can certainly use a consolation trophy for the historical messes we sat through.
— Seung Y. Lee
Worst Game Honorable Mention: Cal football vs. Colorado (football)
Billed as the Pac-12 pillow fight, Cal’s clash with Colorado lived up to its hype, identifying the worst of the worst. For the Cal football team, this was the game that solidified its standing at the bottom of the Pac-12. Heading into their matchup against Colorado on Nov. 16, the Bears found themselves winless in conference play. The Buffs were also lacking a Pac-12 win, so something had to give.
With the howling wind commandeering airborne footballs, the Bears’ passing game was reduced to smithereens. Starting quarterback Jared Goff consistently overthrew and underthrew his downfield targets. With Goff’s arm lacking the necessary strength to generate accurate spirals, Cal head coach Sonny Dykes opted to replace Goff’s wobblers with then-backup quarterback Zach Kline’s lasers. But Kline fared no better, and Cal mustered only 24 points, with 14 of those coming in garbage time — an act Cal had mastered at that point in the season.
The defense, meanwhile, was its typical porous self. In addition to the 41 points scored against it, Cal surrendered nearly 500 total yards of offense. The unit, spearheaded by defensive coordinator Andy Buh, was eaten alive by the Buffs’ passing game. Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau averaged 10 yards per attempt, and wide receivers Paul Richardson and Nelson Spruce combined for 19 catches and 280 yards.
It’s never good to lose a football game. It’s even worse to lose to a team that failed to beat any other conference opponent. But it’s the absolute worst to get trounced, 41-24, by that same team.
— Sean Wagner-McGough