Cal sports teams poised to make a splash in spring

Photo composite of swimming, gymnastics, and basketball

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As flowers bloom and bears awake from hibernation, the vernal equinox ushers in a new year — one that features a fresh slate of Cal sports.

With 19 total teams set to play this spring, many feature past and future Olympians. Barring COVID-19-induced postponements and cancellations, the blue and gold faithful have a lot to be excited about. Below are five programs poised for successful seasons ahead.

Men’s and women’s swimming and diving

What makes Cal Athletics truly elite is its aquatics program, with swimming and diving at the forefront of it all. Following the likes of past athletes such as Missy Franklin, Nathan Adrian and Ryan Murphy, many world champions have practiced in the pools of Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex before competing on the Olympic stage. We expect this year to be no different.

Among the Bears headlining the spring 2022 season are Destin Lasco, Hugo González, Reece Whitley, Alicia Wilson, Ema Rajic and Isabel Ivey. Collectively, the aforementioned swimmers boast four Olympic appearances, 27 Pac-12 championships and 29 school records.

Of course, men’s and women’s swimming and diving is as much of a team sport as it is an individual one. As units, the men’s team currently ranks second in the nation with the women’s team standing at seventh — two well-deserved placements that are indicative of Cal’s historic success.

Men’s and women’s crew 

The goal of crew — also known as rowing — is to achieve a harmonious symphony of swings. As oar blades dip into the water at an even pace, propulsion boosts the boats with rapid acceleration. For decades, Cal men’s and women’s crew have each honed this to perfection. 

Under head coach Scott Frandsen, former Cal oarsman and three-time national champion, men’s rowing is looking to pick up right where it left off with a second-place finish at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association, or IRA, National Championships in June 2021. Meanwhile, head coach Al Acosta, Berkeley local and Cal graduate who has led the Bears to two NCAA championships, is at the helm of women’s rowing for the seventh year in a row.

Since the 1920s, both programs under the banner of the blue and gold have been known to produce some of the top rowers west of the Mississippi with no intention of slowing down.

Women’s gymnastics

With high-flying acrobatics, the Bears are ready to continue defying gravity. In a preseason coaches poll, they ranked seventh nationally — highest of any school in the state. Despite earning its best team score at the NCAA championships, the third-best performance nationwide, Cal women’s gymnastics has its eyes on the prize: a first-place finish and title trophy.

Last year, athletes Kyana George, Nevaeh DeSouzas and Maya Bordas helped pave the way for the Bears to achieve numerous school records, with Bordas having earned an individual national championship on the uneven bars. This season will likely showcase much of the same success as many of the program’s top performers return to Haas Pavilion.

Rugby

Regardless of the sport, it’s rare to see any Division I team achieve true perfection. Cal men’s rugby may just be one of them.

A force to be reckoned with, the Bears have not lost a match since April 2021. They currently own a 16-0 record as of Jan. 16 and are widely regarded as a top-five team nationally year in and out. Featuring team captain Sam Golla, three-year starter Jack Manzo and top try scorer in the Pac Rugby 7s Championship tournament Max Schumacher, the Bears are hungry for a Collegiate Rugby Championship title. 2013-17 marked the golden age for Cal, in which the team won five straight national trophies. It seems as if 2022 is the year to reclaim the throne.

Women’s basketball

Last season was all but a scratch for the Bears. After 17 games played, they managed to win only one and ranked dead last in their conference. So far, however, they’ve been on a significant rebound.

With a record of 9-2, the team entered Pac-12 play under head coach Charmin Smith with one of the best starts to a season in program history. After squashing teams such as Saint Mary’s, UC San Diego and University of San Francisco, the blue and gold look every part of a team who recently brought in the nation’s seventh-best recruiting class in 2020. The key to their success lies in lethal offensive weapons averaging double-digit scoring in Jayda Curry, Evelien Lutje Schipholt and Cailyn Crocker as of Jan. 9, paired alongside veteran playmakers such as Leilani McIntosh and Jazlen Green.

The Pac-12 is one of the nation’s most competitive NCAA women’s basketball conferences, as proven by the Bears’ sluggish start to 2022. In totality, however, Cal women’s basketball has defied all expectations heading into this season. Who’s to say the team won’t continue proving doubters wrong?

Ryan Chien is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]