Top Ten Most Memorable Moments
Monday, June 28, 2010
1. Men's Basketball Wins Pac-10
Part of being a Cal fan is accepting that you must learn to live with the could-have-beens. The Rose Bowls that weren't, the implosions that ripped out your heart. The ability to bear crushing defeat is part of what defines supporters of the blue and gold.
The 2010 Cal men's basketball team defied that narrative. And that's why we will never forget what they did one Saturday afternoon in February.
With their 62-46 victory over Arizona State on Feb. 27, the Bears claimed the conference crown amid confetti and comemorative T-shirts at Haas Pavilion.
The game was close early - Cal was down 30-29 at the half - but an 18-2 run in the second half secured an easy victory. The Sun Devils scored just two field goals in the final 11 minutes of the contest.
"Who would have imagined two years ago that we would have won the conference, played into the second round of the NCAA, won 24 games?" coach Mike Montgomery said. "We had kids get hurt. We didn't have great depth. But I thought that they came together as a group. They learned how to play together. They learned how to win games."
We won't remember what happened in the preseason, and the second round loss to Duke in the NCAA Tournament is just a footnote. For the first time in 50 years, the Bears can call themselves Pac-10 champions.
And that's the win that this generation of Cal fans will always remember.
2. Big Game 2009
Hopes weren't high for Cal as it headed into its annual rivalry game against Stanford.
Two weeks prior, it had lost star tailback Jahvid Best in a scary fall against Oregon State, a game that ended in a 31-14 loss. It then managed a 24-16 win against Arizona, as tailback Shane Vereen reeled off 159 rushing yards to fill in admirably for the Bears' most electrifying player.
But doing it against the Cardinal would be an entirely different matter.
Stanford was arguably the hottest team in the nation. The Cardinal was fresh off of blowout wins against Oregon and USC, having put up 50-plus points against teams that had crushed Cal earlier in the season. Oddsmakers had the Cardinal as a -7.5 point spread favorite, and the Axe seemed all but gone.
That's why the games are played.
After spotting Stanford a 21-3 lead in the first half, Cal's offense finally came alive. It suddenly gained the ability to sustain drives after a season of relying on the big play - and did it against a team that was the Pac-10's best in time of possession.
The Cardinal still had eventual Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart, who smashed his way to 139 yards and four touchdowns. As Stanford pushed along the game's final drive, it seemed almost certain that he would find the end zone.
But linebacker Mike Mohamed snatched a game-sealing interception, and Stanford Stadium was flooded with blue and gold.
3. Rugby Reclaims National Title
Reclaiming the national title was the cherry on top of a perfect season.
The Cal men's rugby team battled Brigham Young in their fifth consecutive match-up in the title game, triumphing over the Cougars with a final tally of 19-7 at Stanford's Steuber Rugby Stadium.
Tears streamed down senior Colin Hawley's face as his teammates hoisted him up on their shoulders. Eric Fry, the named MVP of the match, joined Hawley atop the heads of the crowd that had flooded the field to congratulate them.
Coming off the high of the first undefeated campaign since 2002, the ruggers seemed to give it their all in an effort to atone for the loss to BYU in last year's championship - one which broke a streak of five straight titles.
The Bears put up a season-low point total against the physical Cougars, and players were left with arms in slings.
Still, emotions ran high as time expired on the pitch as if the weight of all the things the win represented settled onto the minds and hearts of the players and coaches.
It was coach Jack Clark's 21st title at the helm of the Bears' program. It was the 25th national championship win in program history. It was the last game some of the ruggers would ever play with the entire team.
The emotions, the cheers, the crowd of 4,000 and the victory all came together to bear testament to one of the most exciting events in Cal athletics this past year.
4. NFL Draft
There are draft board risers and then there's Tyson Alualu.
A four-year starter for the Bears, Alualu's character and versatility on the defensive line earned him a second-round grade from most analysts.
Yet, even after an excellent Senior Bowl performance that raised his profile, few could have predicted Alualu's selection at No. 10 by the Jacksonville Jaguars - a move that surprised all of Radio City Music Hall, if not the country.
As it happened, the Hawaii native became Cal's highest NFL Draft selection since Andre Carter was taken seventh overall by San Francisco in 2001.
Alualu was later joined in the first round by teammate Jahvid Best, whom the Detroit Lions traded up to snag at No. 30. The last time Cal had two first-rounders was 2003.
The speedy Best was electric as a running back and kick returner for the Bears, but faced durability questions after a devastating fall against Oregon State ended his collegiate career.
With the fastest 40-yard dash among running backs at the NFL Combine (4.35), Best flashed the big-play potential that clearly "aroused" Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz.
Cal finished the draft's opening day as the only Pac-10 squad to have a player called, and was one of seven schools with multiple first-round picks.
5. Cal Lands Two Five-Star Recruits
The Cal football team's season was a disappointment by almost any measure.
The hype of a potential first Rose Bowl appearance in 50 years, so palpable even through the initial cupcake portion of its schedule, fizzled out with back-to-back blowout losses against Oregon and USC.
The promise of a strong finish after the Bears' Big Game upset similarly fell by the wayside with a loss to lowly Washington and an embarrassing stretch against Utah in the nationally televised Poinsettia Bowl - one in which Cal gave up 27 unanswered points in 35 minutes.
Few expected then that the Bears would land the nation's No. 11 recruiting class less than two months later, inking two five-star recruits for the first time in school history.
The first was defensive end Chris Martin. The 6-foot-5 local product - who spent senior year at Grandview High in Aurora, Colo. - had committed to Notre Dame until coach Charlie Weis was fired.
Then came Keenan Allen, a top-five player who Rivals.com listed as the nation's best safety. The North Carolina native defected from Alabama to play wide receiver and to join his quarterback brother, Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard, whom the Crimson Tide elected not to use a scholarship on.
Combined with a number of four-star gems, National Signing Day gave Cal fans the strong finish it was looking for - along with hope for future on-field success.
6. Men's Swim Places Second at NCAAs
The Cal men's swimming team was not projected to finish in the top two at NCAAs in March. The Bears had lost to Arizona and Stanford in the regular season before succumbing to the Cardinal in the Pac-10 championships.
Only the swimmers and staff knew understood their full capabilities, with coach David Durden witholding advantages - such as resting, shaving, or wearing jammers - for the NCAAs. To outsiders, the Bears then came out of nowhere to lead the pack after two-thirds of the three-day title meet.
A big part of their success was sheer domination of the relays, taking home an astounding four titles in five events. Freshman Tom Shields, former high school swimmer of the year, burst onto the NCAA stage with a win in the 100-yard butterfly. Junior Damir Dugonjic defended his 100-yard breaststroke title, leading a deep breaststroking core to a strong showing.
Not all of the Bears surprised the swimming world - junior Nathan Adrian yet again seized the 100-yard freestyle, but arguably his best performances came in his surges in the relays.
Texas had already won the meet barring a disqualification in the final relay, but Cal swam for pride with Adrian anchoring. Starting behind Texas' Ricky Berens by 1.11 seconds, the Olympian pulled past to claim the final relay by 1.12 seconds.
Though Texas denied Cal its first championship since 1980, the Bears' incredible depth propelled them to a height last reached by the 1986 team.
7. Women's Basketball Wins NIT
Get the joke out of the way now - by winning the WNIT, the Cal women's basketball team proved that it is the 65th-best team in the country.
As insignificant and joke-worthy as the WNIT may seem, the Bears' postseason victory over Miami at Haas Pavilion showed that the young gun Cal squad is no pushover.
"I thought they took the bull by the horns in the postseason and made the most of it," coach Joanne Boyle said. "A lot of teams can just walk away from it. But they said that we are going to refocus and show people that we can play."
With freshman DeNesha Stallworth pouring in 21 points, the Bears closed the season with a 73-61 win that earned them the title of "national champions" - if not quite National Champions. Four of the starting five were freshmen. All told, the freshmen pulled down 31 rebounds and scored 47 points.
The WNIT also afforded sure-fire Cal legend Alexis Gray-Lawson one last swan song for the home crowd. The much-beloved guard scored 100 points over the course of the six-game tournament, finished third among the Bears' all-time scorers and went on to become only the second Cal player drafted in the WNBA.
Considering that Gray-Lawson is the only significant starter who won't be rejoining the Bears next season, it's a safe bet to assume that Cal won't be the 65th-best team in the country.
They'll be a lot better.
8. Women's Water Polo Makes NCAA Tournament
For nearly a decade, the offseason came early for the Cal women's water polo squad.
Situated in a loaded MPSF conference, the Bears had been unable to crack the eight-team NCAA tournament since its 2001 inception.
That drought ended this past spring, when Cal earned its first-ever invitation to the national postseason. The fourth-seeded Bears' debut did not disappoint.
With victories over Michigan and Loyola Marymount at SDSU's Aztec Aquaplex, Cal claimed a third-place finish to wrap up the program's highest national ranking of the Corso era.
Sophomore standout Emily Csikos drove the team's attack all season long with a conference-high 69 goals in 2010. Her offensive prowess helped the Bears storm out to a 9-0 record that included upset wins over Hawaii and seven-time champion UCLA.
Cal then steered through its rigorous conference slate - during which it pushed top-ranked Stanford and USC to the limit - with a stifling defense that allowed a program-low 5.54 goals per game.
The banner campaign was also a fitting end to the careers of seven decorated seniors - most notably Stephanie Schnugg, Camille Hewko, and Meghan Corso.
Having tasted the postseason, Cal's returning players expect to make this past year's NCAA trip into a habit.
9. Tighe Hutchins Prayer Vigil
Situations on the playing field are commonly referred to as "do or die," but for the Cal women's lacrosse team, a simple saying became a stark reality this past fall.
Senior Tighe Hutchins was found on the floor of her home one evening in the midst of what appeared to be a seizure. Upon arriving at the hospital, doctors discovered massive internal bleeding that cast a shadow of doubt over Hutchins' chances to survive.
With a peer fighting for her life in the hospital, the Cal athletic community sprung into action. Numerous athletes immediately gave blood specifically for Hutchins' cause, granting doctor's more time to figure out the cause of the attack.
Meanwhile, Athletes in Action, a student-led organization run by Cal athletes, coordinated a prayer ceremony to be held on Sproul Steps. Hundreds of Cal student-athletes, coaches, and even athletic director Sandy Barbour responded.
On an emotional evening, Hutchins' teammates stood to speak on her behalf and athletes regularly recognized for their on-field accomplishments gathered off of it for a bigger cause. Her parents looked on, thanking the athletic community for its outpouring of support for their daughter.
While the unending effort offered by athletes on the field of competition is certainly important, their displays off the field in instances such as these show the true strength and value of the Cal athletic community.
10. Women's Track Beats Stanford
After a day's worth of events at Edwards Stadium, the Cal women's track and field team had managed to hold Stanford to a deadlock tie at 79 heading into the final event.
All the odds seemed stacked against the Bears: it had been a full decade since a Cal women's team had come out on top of the Cardinal in the annual Big Meet, and three of the four runners in the 4x400m were freshman.
Every track and field athlete lined the track, anxiously awaiting the starting gun and their team's shot at changing the course of history.
From the start, the Bears testified to the power of youth. Freshman Jasmine Joseph captured a two second lead with the first leg, which neither Kayla Dixon nor Angelica Weaver relinquished. Alima Kamara, another freshman, powered the final leg home for the women's first Big Meet victory since 2000.
"My adrenaline was pumping," Kamara said. "It was a perfect opportunity to go out there and win the meet. My teammates were looking up to me to bring it home."
The ensuing uproar was almost as powerful as the performance.
For some, it signified the beginning of a new era. For others, it was the final notch on the belt after a laborious career at Cal.
These women had accomplished something that hadn't happened in ten years, and had done so in the most dramatic fashion.
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