10 Athletes to Keep Your Sights On

Here Are Some of Cal's Most Notable Sports Figures for the Upcoming Season

Photo: Nathan Adrian
Nick Fradkin/File
Nathan Adrian

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Photo: Alex Mack   Photo: Martin Maric   Photo: Alex Morgan

Photo: Ashley Walker   

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The Cal Rugby Team

It wouldn't be right to highlight one player from this well-oiled machine that ingests opposing sides and churns out national championships almost annually. The Cal ruggers have won 17 of the last 18 national titles to form one of the most dominant dynasties in college sports. Witter Rugby Field is adorned with the Bears' championship banners before each home game, surrounding the players with a reminder of the tradition that they are meant to uphold. And how they do it is downright brutal-no mercy for the opposition, and no settling for anything less than perfection. If you want to come away from a sporting event with pride in the blue and gold, these guys are your best bet.

Nathan Adrian, M. Swimming

Adrian earned a gold medal in Beijing as a member of the United States 400 freestyle relay team. He didn't swim in the final-the infamous race that featured Michael Phelps cheering on the sideline while Jason Lezak edged out the French-but he had competed in the relay heats the day before, allowing him to receive the medal. Adrian actually sat out the 2007-2008 collegiate season in order to train for the games, but now that they are all but in the rearview mirror, he will return to Berkeley and compete for the Bears in the 2008-2009 season. In doing so, he can improve on the accomplishments of his freshman campaign, which included a second-place finish in the 100 butterfly at the 2007 Pac-10 championships and an eighth-place finish in the 100 free at NCAAs.

Alex Mack, Football

Berkeley breathed a collective sigh of relief when Mack decided to forgo the NFL Draft and return to Strawberry Canyon for his senior season. Last year, the Bears center was one of only three unanimous first-team All-Pac-10 selections, and he was awarded the Morris Trophy for best offensive lineman in the conference, as voted for by the Pac-10's defensive linemen. Before this season has even begun, the recognition has started to pile up. Mack is on the preseason watch list for both the Rimington Award and the Rotary Lombardi Award, given to the nation's top center and top offensive or defensive lineman, respectfully. At 6-foot-4 inches and 316 pounds, he's a big reason that Cal has now had six straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher and allowed just 24 sacks over the past two seasons-good for third in the nation.

Morgan Beck, Volleyball

In 2007, Beck-a 6-foot-3 inch outside hitter-helped lead the Cal volleyball team to its best finish ever, upsetting defending national champion Nebraska to reach the Final Four for the first time in program history. Due to her steady performance throughout the year, Beck then spent the spring in Colorado training with the U.S. Women's National Indoor Volleyball Team.

Now she returns to Berkeley as one of only three seniors on the 2008 squad, which will begin the season as the No. 5 team in the country, according to the CBS College Sports Network/AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 Poll. The All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection two years running will face the challenge of taking over a leadership role and measuring up to the new standard of Cal volleyball.

Ashley Walker, W. Basketball

The Cal women's basketball team's rise to relevance on the national stage isn't due entirely to Ashley Walker, but it probably wouldn't have happened as quickly without her. Selected to the first team All-Pac-10 for the last two years and an All-American for the first time in 2007, Walker is a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court. Last season, she led the Bears in scoring, rebounding and blocks. And it gets better. Through three years, Walker has already written herself into Cal lore as the only player in school history with 1,000 points, 800 rebounds, 200 assists and 100 blocks. That's rarefied air.

Alex Morgan, W. Soccer

Morgan spent her summer traveling to Mexico and England with the U.S. Under-20 National Team, and helped the U.S. qualify for the FIFA Under-20 world championships at CONCACAF in Mexico. A dangerous offensive weapon, Morgan led Cal in points (18) and goals (8) in the 2007 season, earning second-team Freshman All-American honors from Soccer Buzz.

Blake Smith, Basketball

Hitting, relief pitching, throwing himself around the outfield and throwing runners out at home plate-pretty much the only thing that Smith doesn't do for the Cal baseball team is cut the grass. Smith helped the Bears to their first NCAA tournament berth in six years last spring, and then spent the summer with the USA Baseball National (Collegiate) Team, which went 24-0 and captured gold at the IV FISU World Collegiate Baseball Championship in the Czech Republic, and led them in hitting with a .327 average.

Martin Maric, Track & Field

When Maric made the Croatian Olympic team in July, he became the 45th Cal athlete to qualify for the Games, the 45th Olympian in the history of the track and field program and the only current member of the program to compete in Beijing. The Bears have been happy to welcome Maric-a transfer from Georgia-who earned All-America honors in the discus at the NCAA Championships in the spring.

Katie Morgan, Track & Field

Morgan, a high school All-American in the pole vault, had a promising start at Cal before being derailed by knee surgery at the end of her freshman year. She redshirted in 2006, sat out 2007, and then came back with a vengeance, turning 2008 into a season to remember by winning an NCAA title in the pole vault. Morgan's mark of 13-9.25 went unmatched at the NCAA championships, garnering her the national title. Morgan also abused the university's pole vault record, repeatedly setting new marks all the way to 13-11.75, where it stands now.

Sara Isakovic, W. Swimming

Isakovic is already a figure on the international scene, and she hasn't even raced yet for the Bears. An incoming freshman this fall, Isakovic competed in Beijing for Slovenia and won a silver medal in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:54.97. Though she finished 0.15 seconds behind the leader, Isakovic still clocked in ahead of the previous world record time of 1:55.52. And the Slovenian was no stranger to the worldwide attention. She swam in Athens, as well.


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