Leaders who do it all: Cal’s spotlight on Black female athletes

Photo of Haley Giavara
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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1896: The first women’s intercollegiate basketball game. 

Cal was playing Stanford, as the Bay Area rivalry has long been reinforced. Yet, the core of this athletic attraction was not the deep-rooted animosity between the Bears and the Cardinal; rather, it was the fact that women were making their debut in collegiate sports. Ever since this history-changing game, Cal has continued to embrace women in sports and challenge the status quo.

The women of Cal Athletics have earned a spotlight as game changers in their respective sports. By making fans proud event after event, these women do not go unnoticed. However, it is important to highlight the Black student-athletes who have shaped the success and competitive nature of Cal Athletics. 

It is evident that, within Cal Athletics, age does not matter. As freshman Ayo Oke rises to the challenge of leading the Bears’ soccer squad while earning a spot on the United States U-20 Roster for the 2022 Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship, her determination as a Cal representative and global athlete underscores her significant leadership. 

On and off the field, Oke breaks boundaries and steps out of her comfort zone to compete. Her passion is an indication of leadership. 

In similar fashion to Oke, junior Haley Giavara utilizes her passion for her sport to overcome hardship and competition. Tennis star Giavara came onto the Cal courts swinging, never relenting on the athletic prowess she had before she was a Cal recruit. As a 2020 ITA singles All-American athlete, Giavara takes her tennis efforts to the next level and does not confine her success within the walls of Bear territory. 

To pass the spotlight to another All-American athlete, junior Isabel Williams stands tall as the goalie of Cal women’s water polo. Emerging from the 2019 Junior Olympics and as a member of the 2018 Team USA Futures International Team, Williams has recorded countless saves and wins as a Cal Bear. With a total of 36 saves in her 2021 season, Williams not only harnessed athletic success but also earned ACWPC All-Academic Superior recognition. 

Whether in water or on land, the Bears take pride in their leadership. For example, senior Felicia Renelus leads the Cal track and field team as an upperclassmen and a jumper, breaking records and keeping her eyes on the prize. As she pursues a master’s degree from Cal in design, Renelus is carrying all of her success over from her alma mater, Brown. 

As a newbie to the Bears, her reputation and accomplishments precede her. Recording the ninth all-time best triple jump at Brown and setting a new triple jump personal record at the 2020 Ivy League Indoor Championship, Renelus has many accolades to show for herself. To continuously defeat your past self and overcome personal hardships is one of Renelus’ greatest attributes. This is what makes Renelus such a leader: She never gives up.

While there are countless Bears who have earned a spotlight and never shied away from the opportunity to break the boundaries that are put up for Black female athletes, these specific athletes have channeled their athleticism into activism that illuminates the rare abilities these women have to showcase.

With Black female coaches instilling inspiration and motivation in these women, there will be a domino effect of women rising to the challenge of competing as more Black leaders emerge within women’s athletics communities — not only at Cal, but throughout the entire nation.

Alisa Steel covers women’s swim and dive. Contact her at [email protected].