BERKELEY – When Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour and former Cal Chancellor Robert Birgeneau first discussed the idea of designating a week each year to honor the school’s national champions, Birgeneau got a little gunshy.
“I thought it was a great idea and a great tradition to start, but of course my stomach muscles tightened thinking about what would happen if we didn’t have any national champions,” Birgeneau said. “Under Sandy’s leadership, that hasn’t been even close to actually happening.”
Indeed, Cal is holding its eighth annual National Championship Week this week, and once again there are a handful of national titles to honor. The celebration continued Tuesday evening with the annual Chancellor’s Reception at the University Club at California Memorial Stadium.
Birgeneau, who stepped down as Chancellor at the end of last year and returned to the faculty in the physics department, made one final appearance at National Championship Week as the previous year’s titles took place while he was still in office. New Chancellor Nicholas Dirks was scheduled to appear but was forced to skip the event to deal with the ongoing power outage on campus.
“It’s been a pleasure for both (wife) Mary Catherine and myself to help oversee a university that has student-athletes who really are a model of what a student-athletes should be,” Birgeneau said in his remarks Tuesday evening. “It has been a privilege to be associated with all of you and we’re really proud of what you have done for the university. You’ve helped make the university the extraordinary institution that it is.”
Honored Tuesday and all week for winning national championships are the rugby team, the women’s varsity crew boat, golfer Max Homa and swimmers Rachel Bootsma, Caitlin Leverenz, Elizabeth Pelton and Tom Shields.
The Cal rugby team won its 27th national championship in 2012-13 and its first in the Collegiate Rugby 7s. The women’s varsity eight won its third title in that event. Bootsma won the NCAA title in the 100 backstroke, Leverenz took the crown in the 200 individual medley, Pelton won the championship in the 200 backstroke and Shields was a multiple NCAA titlist in the 100 and 200 butterfly.
Homa became the first men’s golfer ever to win the NCAA individual title.
“We are here to celebrate our national champions, and the culmination of the excellence that we know here at Berkeley,” Barbour said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of student-athletes, but certainly our coaches, our support staff, and the entire university that stands behind every one of our 29 teams and 850 student-athletes.”
As part of the reception, each of Cal’s national champions presented Birgeneau and his wife with a gift. Women’s varsity eight student-athletes Erica Rippe and Jenn Heissen gave the couple an oar that is presented to each four-year rower that graduates at Cal. Leverenz and Shields presented the Birgeneaus with Cal swimming gear.
Men’s golf coach Steve Desimone stood in for Homa, who is preparing to play in his first PGA Tour event this weekend at CordeValle in the South Bay. Desimone’s gift was a plaque with an inscription that listed Homa’s accomplishments as a Pac-12 and NCAA champion.
“I talked to Max about an hour ago and he said please tell the Chancellor, quote: ‘Thank you for the experience of a lifetime’,” Desimone said.
The entire rugby team then took the podium and presented Mary Catherine Birgeneau with a bouquet of flowers.
“I’d like to thank you for your unwavering support throughout your tenure,” team captain Seamus Kelly said. “Thank you from Cal Rugby.”
National Championship Week will culminate with a halftime presentation Saturday during the Bears’ football game against Washington State at Memorial Stadium.