2011 Spring Sports AwardsThe Daily Cal sports staff selects the best of the spring semester in Cal athletics.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Category: Sports > Spring
Best Male Athlete: Nathan Adrian
Nathan Adrian is the future of American sprinting, but was the present of the Cal men's swimming program this year that earned its first national title since 1980.
After seeing the Olympic gold medalist swim a few times, you come to expect the sprinter to dazzle you each time he touches the water. He certainly didn't disappoint in his senior campaign, not dropping a single short-distanced freestyle event.
In the preliminary round of the 100-yard freestyle, however, the Pac-10 Co-Swimmer of the Year looked human. Adrian, the top-seeded qualifier heading into the prelims, was the eighth-placed swimmer in the morning session, the last to qualify for the evening's finals.
But it didn't matter; he was merely conserving his energy to eventually claim his signature event. Adrian captured his third consecutive 100-yard title in a pool record time of 41.10 seconds.
After losing his crown in the 50-yard free last season, the CSCAA Swimmer of the Championships seized what was rightfully his yet again. He clocked in at 18.66, going down in the history books with the fastest American time. That's the fastest time in any stroke in history.
Over his four years of collegiate swimming - interrupted for a year due to his Olympic training - Adrian nabbed 11 national titles and set eight school records.
In addition to winning all of his individual races, Adrian anchored all three of the Bears' championship relay teams.
Adrian carried the Bears to a national title. He'll likely carry the Americans to Olympic glory.
Honorable Mention: Mike Morrison
Senior Mike Morrison of the Cal track and field team leads the pack that will compete in the fast-approaching NCAA championships.
He was last year's runner-up to Oregon's Ashton Eaton. Eaton won three straight NCAA titles in the decathlon, but graduated last year to open up the field again.
Morrison leads the pack now.
He set a new personal record of 7,921 earlier this month to move him into third on Cal's all-time performer list.
Best Female Athlete: Jolene Henderson
Jolene Henderson has pitched over 218 innings this spring, easily more than anyone else in the Pac-10.
Luckily for the No. 12 Cal softball team, her arm hasn't felt tired at all.
That's not to say that the sophomore hasn't had injury troubles. A stress fracture in her hip a few weeks ago had her sitting out a handful of games on crutches.
But in a season that began without All-American Valerie Arioto - last year's ace (21-9, 1.43 ERA) and leading slugger (.819) broke her leg during the team's second spring practice - Henderson's emergence has been a godsend.
Her 27 wins and 0.74 ERA both top the Pac-10 - a conference that has six teams ranked among the top 13 in the country. ASU freshman Dallas Escobedo allows a next-best 1.49 runs per seven frames, a respectable number that's laughable next to Henderson's.
The sophomore has netted three Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week awards, also more than any other player. She was also named the NFCA National Player of the Week last week.
The squad is approaching the end of the regular season now, and while Ninemire is confident that Henderson has the endurance for the team's 26th consecutive postseason, she'll be careful to manage her pitch count down the stretch.
Much like last season, Cal is poised as a dark horse candidate for the Women's College World Series despite starting three freshmen in the infield. But this year, the Bears are only going as far as Henderson takes them.
Honorable Mention: Jana Juricova
In the newest tennis rankings Jana Juricova is No. 1 in both singles and doubles, and with good reason.
The junior finished her season in singles undefeated and dominated the doubles courts with senior Mari Andersson. Juricova defeated two then-No. 1 players - Stanford's Hilary Barte and USC's Maria Sanchez - in March. Her most memorable victory this season came two weeks ago, when the Slovakian grinded out a tough three-set victory against No. 3 Barte.
With Juricova carrying the torch, No. 8 Cal women's tennis team is aspiring to win its first NCAA title.
-Seung Y. Lee
Best Coach: David Durden
When the Cal men's swimming team lost consecutive meets to Stanford, some questioned its legitimacy as a national title contender. Coach Dave Durden was not among that group.
Just as he planned it, the Bears peaked at exactly the right time, and came away with the NCAA championship in March.
"It's all about the trust," senior Josh Daniels said. "If you put your faith in him, he'll take you pretty far."
Durden came to Berkeley in 2007, taking over a Cal team that had just finished a disappointing eighth at NCAAs. Since then, the Bears haven't finished out of the top four, and Durden has been named Pac-10 coach of the year twice.
Prior to his arrival, Cal had always had its fair share of high profile swimmers - boasting names like Matt Biondi, Anthony Ervin, Duje Draganja and so on - but was rarely considered a top tier team, having not won a national title since 1980. Durden flipped that notion on its head, creating an unequivocal beast of a swim team - one that took the national championship this year without getting a single point from its diving team.
But despite all the success he's had at Cal, winning isn't necessarily the end all be all of sports for Durden, but rather enjoying and relishing in the process is. And that's what he's best at.
"I've been a part of national titles that have just been a chore," Durden said. "It's not about winning. It's about getting a group of guys together, having a good time and swimming fast."
Honorable Mention: Jack Clark
Jack Clark had to be more than a championship rugby coach this season. Faced with the possible demotion of his legendary program from varsity standing, Clark rallied alumni and Cal backers to save the team.
Despite the off-the-field distractions, including displacement from Witter Rugby Field, Clark hasn't missed a step. The Bears tore through their regular season unscathed, leaving opponents in their wake.
Clark, who co-captain Jason Law said "provides enough leadership for the whole team," has his team poised for a run at its 26th national championship.
Best Newcomer: Allen Crabbe
The freshman guard from Los Angeles came to Cal as one of the state's top basketball players. If his first season is any indication, Crabbe may leave as one of the best in the Pac-10 - coach Mike Montgomery has hinted as much.
After starting slowly during the non-conference slate, Crabbe blossomed into one of the Bears' most consistent options down the stretch. He became the team's first Pac-10 Freshman of the Year since Leon Powe in 2004, after ranking third on the team in scoring (13.4 points per game).
And it didn't take long for other coaches around the league to notice his potential.
"He doesn't play like a freshman," USC's Kevin O'Neill said. "He plays with poise, he shoots it. To me, he's the best freshman in the league, without question."
Crabbe failed to reach double digits just five times in 18 conference games; three of those contests, all Cal losses, were cut short or missed entirely due to injury. Notable performances included a career-high 30 points to lead the Bears' home upset of Washington State, and a 27-point outburst in 54 minutes of play during the Arizona marathon.
Known best for sharp 3-point shooting, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Crabbe has started to develop an impressive all-around game - he grew much more confident driving to the basket as the season went on, and also finished as Cal's third-leading rebounder.
With another year of experience, last year's overachieving Bears squad should continue to impress in 2011-2012 - Crabbe especially.
Honorable Mention: Cindy Tran
Natalie Coughlin is arguably one of the greatest female swimmers of all time. A year ago, Cindy Tran broke Coughlin's 1998 national high school record in the 100-yard backstroke - by more than a second.
It's far too early to say that Tran will follow in the two-time Olympian's wake, but her freshman season was a good start. She became the second-fastest 100-yard backstroker in school history when she won the event during the Pac-10 Championships. Tran followed that performance with a national title in the same event, as well as the 400 and 200 medley relays.
Best Team: Men's and Women's Swim
Usually conference championship meets are accurate indicators of the relative abilities of the teams competing. But the Cal men's and women's swimming teams proved that this notion isn't always the case.
Both squads dropped Pac-10 conference titles to Stanford, and both got their revenge a couple weeks later in winning the NCAA title.
For the men's team, this was hardly surprising. After finishing second at the 2010 NCAAs, the Bears returned three individual national champions and were considered heavy favorites to make a title run. Cal bowled over its early season opponents, and minor slip-ups against Stanford became mere afterthoughts in an otherwise dominant season, which culminated in the school's third national championship.
For the women's team, it was a different story. Despite being two years removed from winning the title, the Bears looked to be a strong team, but not of NCAA championship caliber. This assessment was reaffirmed by a early season dual meet loss to Texas, who would go on to finish fifth at NCAAs. But when the Bears stormed into the lead on the second day of the NCAA Championships and never looked back, there was no doubt of their legitimacy as the country's top team.
Both teams now face similar situations in trying to replace seniors that have been absolutely integral to their success - such as Nathan Adrian and Amanda Sims. But both teams have plenty of young talent - like Tom Shields and Caitlin Leverenz - to be right back in contention for repeat performances in 2012.
Best Game: Cal vs. Arizona, Men's hoops, February 5th
Arizona's Lamont "MoMo" Jones called it "just another day in the life."
Anyone else at Haas Pavilion on Feb. 5 would have dubbed it the best conference basketball game of the year.
With 14 ties, 17 lead changes and five career-highs, the 107-105 triple-overtime thriller between Cal and Arizona had enough excitement to paralyze Gus Johnson. The only thing missing for Bears fans was a final "W" in the box score.
Time after time, Cal had the eventual Pac-10 regular season champ (and future Duke slayer) on the ropes, but could not close out a victory. The young Bears led by five with under a minute left in regulation and held a three-point edge with 20 seconds remaining in the second overtime. Yet, clutch shots from Jones granted the Wildcats extra lives on both occasions, while the Bears were done in by missed free throws, defensive miscues and a lack of depth.
On a Saturday night full of superlatives, the number of gutsy performances was endless. Three Cal players - Harper Kamp, Brandon Smith and Allen Crabbe - played 50 minutes or more. Jorge Gutierrez, who fouled out in the first overtime, poured in 25 points and was nearly perfect from the field.
And with star forward Derrick Williams limited to 12 points, Arizona received valuable contributions from its role players - most notably 25 points from Kevin Parrom and a trio of big 3-pointers from Jordin Mayes.
In the end, the Bears' missed opportunities showed the room for growth that remained. The game as a whole, however, demonstrated the potential that existed.
Biggest Surprise: Cal Baseball's Reinstatement
At the beginning of the semester, rumors circulated that two of the Cal baseball team's best players, second baseman Tony Renda and pitcher Justin Jones, were transferring to Oregon at the season's end.
As it turns out, it was just a rumor. Few were ready to give up on the baseball team - cut in September due to budget woes in the athletic department - just yet.
"A lot of my colleagues have said, 'Well, we don't want to recruit your players,'" coach David Esquer said. "'You're coming back. There's no way they're going to uphold this.'"
They were right.
On April 11, after months of frenzied fundraising, the Bears returned to the fold of Cal athletics for good. The Save Cal Baseball foundation raised over $9 million from private donations, raffles and ticket sales from a tournament at AT&T Park to rescue the 119-year-old program.
As a part of their resurrection, the Bears are planning to create a $20 million endowment to ensure the team can sail smoothly through any future budget crises. Lights for night games at Evans Diamond, corporate sponsorship at the park and games against Major League clubs are also in the works to transform baseball into a revenue generating sport.
Happily for all involved, the announcement has come in the midst of one of the best seasons the Bears have had in some time. They boast one of the top pitching staffs in the nation and a potent offensive lineup that features Renda, catcher Chadd Krist - second nationally in doubles - and right fielder Vince Bruno, a junior college transfer who is currently hitting .339. Even after a hiccup at the hands of No. 8 Arizona State last weekend, they're still very much in the hunt for the conference crown.
For donors, hopefully it means they're getting their money's worth.
Honorable Mention: Women's Water Polo
Take away six senior scorers from the NCAA's third-place finisher and what do you get? The nation's No. 2 team, apparently.
Led by sophomore Breda Vosters and a pair of impact freshmen in Kelly Mendoza and Ashley Young, the Bears have put to rest any expectations of a rebuilding campaign. Cal wrapped up the regular season with a 6-1 record in the MPSF - including a league play sweep of UCLA and USC, the last two national championships.
Cal can continue its storybook season with a strong showing at this weekend's league tourney.
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