Watch the Haas Pavilion floor take on its new look, time-lapse style.
The Cal women's volleyball team has made 11 straight NCAA Tournaments and has produced its share of All-Americans, so the program is not exactly lacking in the credibility department.
Still, a little validation can never hurt.
The Bears coaching staff spent last week in Anaheim observing the U.S. National Team train at the American Sports Center. What they found out was the things they are doing in practice aren't much different than what the best players in the country are doing.
"It's not rocket science," said Cal assistant coach Jennifer Carey, who suggested making the trip in an effort to strengthen her professional development. "When you go to the next level, everything is better, but it's still volleyball. It's just a higher level of it. It's not that anything in their gym was anything we've never seen before."
Head coach Rich Feller, Carey and fellow assistant coach Ben Bodipo-Memba were afforded the opportunity to watch the national team train partly because head coach Karch Kiraly is a longtime friend of Carey's family. Carey's father, George, is a former referee and tournament director of the AVP Tour, where Kiraly was a top player.
Jennifer Carey sent Kiraly an e-mail asking if the Cal staff could come observe, and she said Kiraly and his staff could not have been more accommodating.
"They were very open if we had a question about a certain drill, or if we wanted to know what was written on their whiteboard for practice," Carey said. "They were very welcoming. It's definitely a nice thing for coaches to have an opportunity to go and just watch."
Carey said the Bears can learn a lot from the culture established in USA Volleyball. She said there is a strong sense of team, that everyone is playing for the United States, and that in turn promotes a culture of unselfishness.
"If you're pushing me to be better and I'm pushing you to be better, we're making USA Volleyball better," Carey said. "That translates to Cal. The person on the bench is pushing the person in front of them, who is pushing the person on the court - to be better for Cal. We're all going to get the benefit of it. That's a really unselfish outlook."
The coaching staff could also compare what they saw to what they will be going through this August. As the national team gets ready for upcoming international competition, it is going through what would be akin to training camp. The Bears begin training camp Aug. 9.
"Just to be able to say, 'This is what's happening in our gym, and the same thing is happening in the national team gym'." Carey said. "I thought it was really beneficial for us to go down there and see if their training is going along with our training."
As the accomplishments have piled up, the hypothesis is being met with more and more consensus.
The 2012-13 Cal men's golf team is the best in the history of college golf.
The Bears' achievements this season are unparalleled. Cal has won 11 tournaments, the most ever in a season. The Bears have been ranked No. 1 almost the entire season. Their top five golfers all have stroke averages of 71 or lower, and each of them has been the individual medalist at an event during the season. They have won their 11 tournaments by an average of 14.72 strokes.
But while coach Steve Desimone doesn't shy away from the accolades, he is quick to point out there is one accomplishment left for the Bears to truly be called the best ever.
An NCAA Championship.
"When you look at overall college history, I think there are certain clear elements here that put us in a category that some of the other great teams have not touched," Desimone said. "But those other teams won NCAA championship. I think we are in the discussion, but I wouldn't want to go much further than that. If it turns out the trophy is ours, then we can certainly stake a claim that we are one of the best, and maybe the best, ever."
There will be a sense of hollowness if the Bears don't put the exclamation point on their historic season with the NCAA title. And Cal will begin that quest Tuesday at the 2013 NCAA Championship at the Capital City Club in Alpharetta, Georgia. The tournament runs through Sunday with three rounds of stroke play followed by three days of match play among the eight teams that make the cut.
The Bears are the No. 1 seed and heavy favorites to win their second NCAA title, with the first coming in 2004.
"Everything is building up to this," said Cal sophomore Michael Kim, the No. 1-ranked golfer in the country. "It's the NCAAs. We've kind of taken the 'Championship or Bust' kind of attitude. It doesn't mean all that much if we don't win this one, so everyone is looking forward to it."
The Bears have rolled through the postseason, winning the Pac-12 Championship by nine strokes over UCLA, which is the third seed this week. They followed that up by taking the NCAA Pullman Regional by 20 strokes over TCU, seeded No. 9 at the NCAAs. Cal hasn't tasted anything but victory since early April when it finished second at the Arizona State Thunderbird Invitational.
The Bears have been on the proverbial mission since falling to Alabama in the semifinals of last year's NCAA Championship. The Crimson Tide is the second seed this week.
"We've been building toward this," Desimone said. "Our goal all along, from the moment we lost to Alabama last year in that tremendous, wonderful semifinal match has been to head back to the NCAA Championship. It was a step-by-step process. We knew we were going to have a challenging schedule. We wanted to play all over the country. We wanted to play all the best teams. That's exactly what we did."
The Bears will play along Alabama and UCLA for the first and second rounds. The first threesome tees off Tuesday at 9:20 a.m. PT. Each of the 30 teams to qualify for the field will play 18 holes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the teams with the top eight scores will advance to Friday's quarterfinals. The semifinals are Saturday and finals are on Sunday.
"Win, lose or draw, we can always reflect on what a great season we had. But what we really want to do is put on that exclamation point and grab that trophy can come home," Desimone said. "That's been the goal right from the get-go, and I like our chances.
"The most success that we've had is winning the 2004 NCAA Championship. You talk about pressure. I've never been through anything like that. But I'm welcoming that if it should happen again on June 2."
While many students spent Spring Break in March on a beach or some other relaxing location, Sara Isakovic and a small group of Cal student-athletes had a different agenda.
Isakovic joined student-athletes from Cal, UCLA, San Jose State and Boise State on a trip to Monte Plata, Dominican Republic to help run a sports ministry camp for underprivileged children. Most of the group of 19 were from Cal, including Isakovic and fellow swimmers Caroline Piehl, Kearsten Livingstone and Catherine Breed, rower Taylor Christensen, golfers Pace Johnson and Anthony Machi and more.
The student-athletes spent most of their nine days in the underprivileged town in the Northeastern region of the country playing sports with the kids, studying the bible and forging relationships that transcended linguistic, economic and ethnic barriers.
The trip had such a profound effect on the student-athletes that they are now working hard to make sure the camp, known as "Summer's Best Two Weeks Camp," is still viable for poor children from across the country that want to attend. The camp has recently lost funding, so the group is holding a silent auction Friday night at First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley in an effort to raise funds for the children of the Dominican Republic.
"When I first came back I was walking around campus thinking how lucky I am," said Isakovic, an All-Ameircan swimmer at Cal who also won a Silver Medal at the 2008 Olympics. "I go to the best public university in the world and swim for the best team in the world. But I looked at other students and thought how lucky they are, and the joy and happiness wasn't there. In the Dominican Republic, they have nothing. But they are happy because of their faith in God and this love they share with one another. They are happy because they are alive."
Friday night's even runs from 6-8 p.m. Some of the auction items include private lessons from Cal athletes and signed gear from professional and Olympic athletes. There will also be a performance by the UC Berkeley Orchestra Symphony, and food will be provided. Admission is free.
According to Isakovic, it costs each child $60 to attend the summer camp, and there are about 240 aspiring campers. In turn, they are attempting to raise approximately $14,000.
"It was so emotional when we had to go," Isakovic said. "I had no idea how much impact the kids would have on me. They were full of big smiles then all of the sudden we were leaving and they had the saddest faces. It was just too hard."
The trip was organized by Here For Kids International, a Bay Area-based non-profit organization committed to serving at-risk children worldwide in conjunction with spiritual guidance. Former Cal volleyball player Paulina Inzerillo, who is the director of operations for Here For Kids International, helped spearhead the efforts.
The campers are predominantly orphans from underprivileged communities. Oftentimes, an orphan's parents had been killed or he or she was simply left alone. They are rescued from house parents and give them a roof over their heads.
The kids play soccer, basketball, volleyball, golf and a variety of other sports. The student-athletes came equipped with large bags of donations, mostly made up sports equipment and clothes.
"When we arrived, there was suddenly a swarm of kids around the bus," Isakovic said. "They were so excited to see us. I spoke maybe five words of Spanish, but the language barrier didn't matter. As soon as we stepped off that bus, all those kids wanted was just to be held and loved and smiled at."
Cal's women's crew team won its sixth straight Pac-12 championship Sunday. Here are the highlights, courtesy of the Pac-12 Networks.
Trevor Hildenberger has become an important piece of Cal's pitching staff this season, and he owes it all to teammate Justin Jones' absent-mindedness.
It was one year ago this week that Hildenberger stood behind Cal's bullpen during practice and watched Jones take his mid-week side session. Jones had misplaced his jersey so was wearing shortstop Mike Reuvekamp's No. 37 instead. That led to a discussion about the significance of jersey numbers.
"I asked (pitching coach) Mike Neu what he thinks of when he thinks of No. 26 (Hildenberger's number), and he said he thinks of a side-arm pitcher from UCLA," Hildenberger said. "I added that there was a side-armer on Washington who was No. 26, too. He said maybe I should throw my bullpen that way. I tried it out and it felt good."
And with that, the right-hander who had thrown 12 2/3 career innings in two seasons began to carve a new path that now has him entrenched as the No. 2 starting pitcher in the Cal rotation.
Hildenberger hasn't thrown overhand since that bullpen session. Shortly after the end of the 2012 season, Hildenberger joined the Bend Elks off the West Coast League. He spent the summer learning his new style of pitching, working with teammate Josh McAllister of Arizona State, who also is a side-armer.
"When I got there, I had thrown sidearm for a week," Hildenberger said. "I had a lot of work to do. Facing batters is weird for the first time. I hit the first batter I ever faced. Not on the first pitch, but on the second or third. Throwing 15 years overhand, you get used to a certain release point. And then you have no idea where to release the ball."
Hildenberger said it took about a month for him to have consistent command of his pitches as a side-armer. But by the time he returned to Berkeley for the fall, he had gone from throwing in the low 80s to mid-upper 80s with his fastball. He began the 2013 season as one of the Bears' biggest weapons out of the bullpen.
Hildenberger excelled as a reliever for most of this season. But after Cal experienced some injuries to its starting staff, head coach David Esquer was in search of help in the rotation. Hildenberger, who had averaged just 1 1/3 innings per outing during his first 23 appearances of the year, was allowed to go four innings of relief in a game against Oregon on April 12. He didn't allow a baserunner and struck out five.
That convinced Esquer to insert Hildenberger into the rotation, and he's held down the spot ever since. Hildenberger will make his fifth and final start of the season Saturday against Stanford at Evans Diamond. The Bears and Cardinal open a three-game series Friday night.
"We had no intention of having him start at all this year," Neu said. "We thought he'd be a great back end of the bullpen guy. He did a great job. But we felt like we didn't have a whole lot of options (in the rotation), and he was one of our best guys. We needed him to start, and he's taken it from there."
Hildenberger made his first start April 20 against Washington State, allowing four earned runs in four innings.
"I was terrified," Hildenberger said. "I hadn't started since high school. I didn't have a wind-up. It was a hot day. I was sweating like a pig. I couldn't feel my arm because my adrenaline was rushing so much. I walked the leadoff batter and had to just step back and take a deep breath and realize that this is no different than the seventh inning when you have to get three outs and go back to the dugout."
Hildenberger then allowed just one earned run in seven innings in his second start at Washington. As a starter, he's 1-1 with a 4.70 ERA. Take away his start against Washington St. and his ERA is 3.79.
Hildenberger hasn't decided if Saturday will be his last career start. He has one year left of athletic eligibility but has just seven units left to earn his degree in American Studies. Hildenberger will go through graduation ceremonies Saturday morning and then start the Bears' game that night.
"This Saturday is going to be weird because I have my final start against our rival school on the day I graduate college," Hildenberger said. "It's like everything is culminating on one day. This is my first year with significant innings. What would make me come back the most is going to a regional. I just have to talk about it with my family."
Since throwing sidearm is relatively new to Hildenberger, there still is probably substantial room for improvement. Neu said major-league scouts are already asking about him.
"Teams are always looking for a different look," Neu said. "He's having success throwing from a different arm slot, so teams may take a look at him. There are sidearm guys who haven't been top prospects in college but have had a lot of success. We'd love to have him back for another year. It'd be fun to see what he can do."
When Cal tennis player Riki McLachlan boarded a plane for the NCAA Tournament at Florida last week, he didn't know if he was going as a spectator or participant.
In fact, it was less than 24 hours before the Bears' first-round match against Florida State that it was determined that he would indeed make his first appearance on a tennis court in three months.
Dispelling the conventional wisdom that his season was over when he dislocated his left kneecap during a match against USC on Feb. 8, McLachlan played in Cal's first-round win over the Seminoles, winning the first set at No. 6 singles against Florida State's Michael Rinaldi before the match was stopped in the second set when the Bears clinched the team victory.
McLachlan, who formed the nation's No. 7 doubles team along with his brother, Ben, before the injury, will be back on the court Thursday when the No. 18 Bears (16-9) play No. 2 Virginia (26-0) in the Round of 16 in Urbana, Ill.
"He wasn't ready to play when we left," Cal coach Peter Wright said. "He literally got better each day. It wasn't until the day before that I said, 'Riki, you're in there tomorrow.' It really shows the strength of one young man and his desire to help the team."
Wright felt the Bears were a top-10 team this season, and McLachlan was a big reason for that. A senior and team captain, McLachlan figured to be a key contributor in both singles and doubles. But his season went down the wrong road while jumping for an overhead against the Trojans.
"It was just one of those freak things that happens in sports," McLachlan said. "It's a shot I've done a thousand times. On that one occasion, I jumped a little higher and something strange happened."
McLachlan began the arduous rehab process with no guarantees he would be able to return this season. He wasn't redshirting, meaning this was his last chance to play college tennis. Working closely with Cal athletic trainer Elaine Garcia, McLachlan overcame some sluggish days early in the rehab to make enormous progress. Garcia accompanied the team to Florida and continued to work with him until the last minute.
"Our guys were so excited to see him back," Wright said. "To feel him back out on the court, to hear guys yelling his name when he won points - it was extraordinary from an emotional standpoint. The team was boosted tremendously by it. I can't say enough about how much effort Riki put into getting back. It was day to day, hour to hour."
McLachlan was back on the court for the Bears' second-round win against Denver, but his singles match never made it past the first set after Cal clinched the victory over the Pioneers. Still, McLachlan's ability to get through last weekend and prove he is healthy again should work wonders for his confidence Thursday.
"It was three months but it felt like six or nine months," McLachlan said. "I was more excited than anything. It makes you appreciate being out there and being healthy. It's a lot of fun to compete again."
Learn about football/baseball player Jacob Wark, who has had a very busy spring:
How did the new scoreboard at Evans Diamond go up? Here's how:
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