"We'll come home and talk about gymnastics, then shut it
down," said Howell, Cal's head women's gymnastics coach.
Howell and Crandall are married, and Crandall is Howell's
"Our chemistry as coaches is great," Howell said. "We eat,
sleep and breathe gymnastics. We don't bring work home all the time, but it's
nice that we can talk about it over coffee in the morning."
Howell and Crandall have been busy coaching one of Cal's
best teams in recent years. The Bears have spent most of the season in the
top-25 and are poised to qualify for the NCAA regionals for the first time
The Bears will need to have one of the top 36 regional
qualifying scores at the end of the season to advance into the postseason. Cal
currently sits at No. 35.
"I feel great about it," Howell said. "I'd like to feel a
little more solid, but with the way this team is performing, there's no reason
why we can't get back up there a little bit."
Cal will next be in action Friday night for a three-way meet
at No. 12 Stanford, along with No. 9 Oregon State.
The regional qualifying score (RPS) is determined by taking
a team's top-six all-around scores during the season, dropping the highest
score, and then averaging the rest. Howell said the Bears' RPS has been driven
down by one subpar meet at Utah.
"We're ready to get rid of that score," Howell said. "We
want to kick it out of our average so we can get back in the top-25. Hopefully
we'll do it this weekend."
If the Bears qualify for the NCAA regionals, they would have
to finish in the top-2 there to advance to the NCAA championships.
Cal is led by junior Alicia Asturias and Mariesah Pierce,
the team's top all-around performers. Freshman Serena Leong has also excelled
on the vault, balance beam and floor exercise.
"We had an uncharacteristically bad meet at Utah," Howell
said. "But there's no reason we shouldn't be able to drop that score. That would
be a huge leap for us."
Allen Crabbe pleased the crowd with his 3-point shooting and
Justin Cobbs followed up his Pac-12 Player of the Week efforts with seven
assists, but the final analysis of Cal's 64-46 win over Utah on Thursday night
came down to defense - specifically, defending the paint.
The Bears continued their recent strong defensive play,
holding the Utes to 29 percent floor shooting. That included an 11-minute
stretch in which the Utes made just one field goal. During that span, Cal
outscored Utah 24-2 to turn a 22-14 deficit into a 38-24 advantage with 13:57
And it was Cal's interior players - most notably, Richard
Solomon - that spearheaded the defensive effort. Solomon silenced Utah center
Jason Washburn, holding him to our points on 2-for-9 shooting. Washburn entered
the night ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (57.3%) and
averaging 11.7 points per game.
David Kravish and Robert Thurman also helped out on the
defensive effort inside. Utah scored just 16 points in the paint, and a handful
of those points came late in the game when the outcome was decided.
"I feel like they are playing with a lot more confidence for
us," Crabbe said of Cal's post players. "Things are going well or them on
offense and it carries over to their defense. They're making their presence
felt on the defensive side."
Thursday's win was the sixth in a row for the Bears, and
eighth in their past nine games. The constant during the hot streak has been
defense, especially in the past three games when Cal is holding opponents to
30.4 percent floor shooting. In two of the last three games, the Bears have
held their opponent to 46 points, a season-best.
"I think this team has developed a defensive mindset," Cobbs
said. "We don't rely on our offense to win games. We know it's important to
play defense. We're maturing a lot and taking pride in the defense and getting
Although the Utes entered the night 3-11 in Pac-12 play, they
have been extremely competitive night in and night out. They've lost five
conference games by five points or less. Cal's 18-point win resulted in Utah's
second-worst loss of the season.
"Nobody has beaten Utah like that," Montgomery said. "Utah
has been very difficult to get away from. It's great that we were able to do
The win allowed the Bears to keep pace with the leaders in
the Pac-12. At 11-5 in conference play (19-9 overall), Cal is one game behind
UCLA and Oregon in the Pac-12 standings. The Ducks were playing Oregon State
later Thursday night.
Cal has two regular season games remaining - Saturday against
Colorado and Wednesday against Stanford. Both games are at Haas Pavilion. If
the Bears can win both and get some help around the conference, they could win
their second Pac-12 title in the past four years.
"We know we have two games left and we're in second place,"
Cobbs said. "If we handle our business and get two wins, the rest is out of our
The Bears held Utah to 29 percent floor shooting to win their sixth in a row and eighth out of their past nine games. The win puts the pressure on the other contenders in the Pac-12 to keep winning. Cal now is 19-9, 11-5 in conference play.
Allen Crabbe led the Bears with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Justin Cobbs had 12 points and seven assists and Tyrone Wallace had 11 points and five rebounds. Meanwhile, Richard Solomon was a force inside defensively, silencing the Utes' inside game.
Next up for the Bears: A big one Saturday afternoon against Colorado.
The Bears held Utah two just one field goal during the final 6:33 and lead by 10 at the break. After trailing 22-14, the Bears went on a 20-2 run to end the first half, forcing five turnovers and otherwise playing smothering defense. Allen Crabbe has 10 points and seven rebounds for the Bears, while point guard Justin Cobbs has six assists.
The stretch drive begins tonight at Haas Pavilion. In about 30 minutes, the Bears are hosting the Utah Utes, the first off three home games in a row to close out the regular season. Cal still has its eye on a Pac-12 championship, and a win tonight will keep the Bears firmly in the mix. Stay tuned throughout the night for updates, here and on Twitter (@CalBearBlog).
Haas Pavilion provides a great environment for college
basketball, and things have fallen into place nicely for Cal's basketball arena
to be a special place during the final week of the regular season.
Because of a hot streak during the second half of the season
- the Bears have won five in a row and seven of their last eight - Cal has
firmly put itself in the race to win its second Pac-12 regular season
championship in the last four years. The Bears are battling Oregon, UCLA and
Arizona for the conference crown.
The first ingredient to a Cal championship will be to win
its final three regular season games. All three of those games are at Haas
Pavilion, beginning Thursday night against Utah.
"There's going to be a lot of hype in Haas," Cal forward
Robert Thurman said. "I think Haas is going to be rocking. I think there are
going to be a lot of people here. The energy is going to be great."
Following Thursday's matchup against Utah, the Bears then
host Colorado on Saturday and rival Stanford in their regular season finale
Cal currently stands in fourth place in the Pac-12
standings, but only one game behind conference co-leaders Oregon and UCLA. The
Bears are also one-half game behind Arizona, which lost to USC on Wednesday
night. Cal owns the tiebreak against all three of the other teams vying for the
UCLA escaped Arizona State in overtime Wednesday night but
still has to play Arizona on Saturday. Two of Oregon's final three games are on
the road, including a tough one at Colorado next weekend.
"We just have to stay focused for one more week and one day,"
Cal point guard Justin Cobbs said at Tuesday's weekly press conference. "If we
win those three games, the rest is out of our hands. If we take care of our
business, hopefully we put ourselves in great position to win a Pac-12
The Bears were in the race for the Pac-12 title last season
before coming up short at the end. But this year, as the past eight games
suggest, Cal is heading into the stretch run playing its best basketball of the
"Last year, I think we peaked too early," Thurman said. "Now,
I think we are peaking at the right time. I think we just need to keep that
momentum. I think we're going to come out and play really hard."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Kline threw a deep pass
down the middle of the field that connected perfectly in stride with sophomore
wide receiver Bryce Treggs.
A crowd of a few hundred fans voiced their approval.
A fresh dynamic under
new head football coach Sonny Dykes is that spring workouts are open to the
public. Passionate Cal fans came to Memorial Stadium on Monday evening to watch
the first spring practice of 2013, and were treated to an action-packed,
"I thought the turnout was good," Dykes said after
completing his first practice as Cal's coach. "I think our players are
energized when people come out and watch practice. Hopefully, everybody liked what
Moments later, junior quarterback Austin Hinder delivered a
touchdown pass to wide receiver Drake Whitehurst, drawing another positive
reaction from the crowd.
"It made it more fun," Hinder said. "I thought it was more
live. You look up there and you have the fans getting into your throws. It
makes it fun. That makes you want to do it again. Now people can come and have
Fans, players and coaches braved a chilly evening at the end
of February, one that Dykes was pleased with afterward. Cal's players are
learning an entirely new system, so Dykes acknowledged there will be some
mistakes. But for a first practice, it was encouraging.
"I was pleasantly surprised," Dykes said. "I thought the
energy was good. The attitude was good. There are going to be a million
mistakes, but for the first day, I thought it was good. I was really pleased."
There will be a new starting quarterback behind center for
the Bears in 2013 after the departure of two-year starter Zach Maynard. Monday,
Kline, Hinder and senior Allan Bridgford took all of the reps, but Dykes said
others, such as sophomore Kyle Boehm and true freshman Jared Goff, will get
reps during Cal's next practice session on Wednesday.
"All I know is all these guys are studs," Kline said. "I'm
just trying to compete and do my best. It's going to be a huge battle, that's
for sure. It's going to be an interesting spring."
It took eight years, but Nancy McDaniel and the Cal women's
golf team finally will get its chance again at Ruby Hill Golf Club in
In 2005, the Bears hosted the Pac-10 championships at Ruby
Hill and finished what McDaniel called a disappointing fifth place. Cal hasn't
hosted a tournament since.
That will change this week when Ruby Hill will once again
serve as the host site for a Cal tournament, this time the Cal Classic on
Monday and Tuesday.
"We had a great team in 2005 and finished fifth. It was
really disappointing, actually," McDaniel said. "To be able to host a tournament
again means a lot to the program - to be able to give back to all of the
tournaments that we participate in every year, that means a lot to us. Ruby
Hill is a great facility."
Eleven teams will compete in the Cal Classic - including fellow
Pac-12 teams Arizona State, Stanford and Oregon State. The field also includes Coastal
Carolina, Fresno State, San Diego State, San Jose State, UC Davis, USF and
UNLV. Ruby Hill features a par-72, 6,203-yard course.
McDaniel said it's a challenge hosting a tournament,
particularly in finding a course that is available and determining dates that
work for enough schools to field an event.
"This year, everything aligned and we're here," McDaniel
The Bears won their second-ever Pac-12 Championship last
year and have two golfers returning from that squad - senior Jacqueline Williams and junior Nicola
Rossler. Cal opened the spring season last weekend at the Peg Barnard
Invitational at Stanford and finished second out of 13 teams. That included
beating out two top-10 teams in the process.
Sophomore Morgan Thompson
finished fourth individually last weekend, shooting a 1-under 141 for the
Cal features two freshmen in its lineup with local ties that
have played Ruby Hill in the past - Hannah Suh of San Jose and Carly Childs of
"We feel like we're climbing the ladder right now," McDaniel
said. "It's a nice place to be. This is a team to watch out for. They're not in
the limelight at all at this moment, but this is a team to kind of track."
Cal's women's basketball team can't afford to play without
starting point guard Brittany Boyd for an extended period of time. But the sixth-ranked
Bears showed Friday night what they have at other times this season - they are
built to withstand a hiccup or two in their playing rotation.
Boyd missed Friday's game against Oregon with an injured
groin, but Cal received important contributions from Afure Jemerigbe and
Mikayla Lyles in a 77-55 victory in front of 2,673 at Haas Pavilion.
Jemerigbe had 13 points, six rebounds and a career-high four
assists without committing a turnover in 32 minutes. Lyles, meanwhile, played a
season-high 25 minutes and had eight points and five rebounds.
"I thought a lot of people stepped up," Cal coach Lindsay
Gottlieb said. "Several people did the small individual things to lead to the
better collective effort. We really showed we are balanced and versatile."
Jemerigbe has started all 26 games this season, but with
stars like Layshia Clarendon, Gennifer Brandon and Boyd, she doesn't always
grab many of the headlines. But the former prep All-American is a glue player
that does a little bit of everything for the Bears.
"With Brittany out, I knew I had to step up," Jemerigbe
said. "The coaches wanted everyone to step up. The token was given to me and I
stepped up a little bit."
Lyles also made a huge difference. She came in averaging
just 11.4 minutes per game but was a steadying force on the floor throughout
the evening. Lyles has produced before this season - she had 14 points and
seven rebounds in the Bears' 67-55 win over Stanford on Jan. 13.
"Mikayla always gives us a lift," Gottlieb said. "The way
this team is built, we can withstand someone being out or someone having a bad
shooting night. Mik is the same whether she plays two minutes or 25 minutes. I
talked to Mik after shootaround, not to tell her she's going to play more
minutes, but that she needs to be really dialed in on Oregon. Mik is such a leader
that she probably knew that meant more minutes for her."
For a first-place team playing a last-place team, the first
half was a little too close for comfort for the Bears. After racing out to a
10-0 lead, Cal trailed 19-18 with 3:49 left before halftime. But the Bears then
went on a 12-2 run to take a 30-21 lead at the break. Lyles hit a pair of
3-pointers during the stretch.
The Ducks (4-23, 2-13) were still within striking distance
at 37-30 with 16:54 remaining, but the Bears went on a 10-0 run to take
"I was really happy with our second half," Gottlieb said. "I
loved the way we started. I thought we didn't miss a beat. Then we went into a
shooting drought, and that zapped our energy a bit. But I thought we responded
and came out with great energy in the second half, and with or team great
energy often leads to good things happening."
The Bears went on a 10-0 run early in the second half and went on to a comfortable 77-55 win over the Ducks. Layshia Clarendon led Cal with 14 points, while Afure Jemerigbe had one of her best all-around games of the season with 13 points, six rebounds, a career-high our assists and no turnovers.
Talia Caldwell had 10 points and 10 rebounds or Cal (24-2, 13-1). Gennifer Brandon added 10 points and nine rebounds.
Without starting point guard Brittany Boyd, junior guard Mikayla Lyles assumed a bigger role and finished with eight points and five rebounds in a season-high 25 minutes. Lyles entered the game averaging 11.4 minutes per game.
A 12-3 run helped the sixth-ranked Bears take a 30-21 lead into the half. Without starting point guard Brittany Boyd, Cal's offense is struggling a bit. But the Bears got hot near the end off the first half, with Mikayla Lyles hitting two clutch 3-pointers and Layshia Clarendon scoring five points to help erase a 19-18 deficit.
A win tonight would keep the Bears in at least a tie atop the Pac-12 standings. Cal and Stanford enter tonight both with 13-1 records in conference play. Oregon, meanwhile, is last in the Pac-12 standings at 2-12 (4-22 overall). The Ducks have beaten Washington State twice this season and lost to everyone else in conference play.
Senior Layshia Clarendon leads the Bears at the half with 12 points. Gennifer Brandon has eight rebounds.
Corvallis, Oregon isn't exactly known as a factory for elite
swimmers. So how did Cal freshman Jacob Pebley wind up on the USA Junior
"My family used to raft a lot, and they didn't want me to
drown," Pebley said.
In the safety of a calm, contained swimming pool, Pebley has
flourished. Despite training in relative obscurity in the Pacific Northwest,
Pebley became one of the top backstrokers in the country. He had top programs
like Texas, Florida and Georgia vying for his talents, but ultimately chose to
join the two-time NCAA champions in Berkeley.
"I was always training by myself," Pebley said. "Coming here
was completely different. Every practice is hard."
While Pebley swam for a club in Corvallis, there was nobody
else there at his level. He was the only one to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
He said there has been one other male swimmer from his club to earn a Division
"It's pretty cool to come from a town that doesn't have many
D-I swimmers," Pebley said. "I'm used to being the big fish in a small pond,
and I want to have that feeling again. But I have to work for it."
There's no question Pebley is surrounded by high-level
swimmers at Cal, but the freshman is already carving out his own legacy in
Berkeley. He owns the top time in the country this year in the 200 backstroke
with a mark of 1:41.62.
"You don't see too many swimmers coming out of Oregon, in
general," Cal coach Dave Durden said. "But his club program coach did a great
job. For Jacob to come to an environment where he is surrounded by some
Olympians, guys that are comparable in the world to where he is at, there is a
comfort level to that. You can see him get better and better."
While being around fellow accomplished swimmers can be
comforting, it is also a change from what he was used to back home. The
internal competition is raising the level of his performance, as his
performance in the 200 backstroke indicates.
"I like being at the top," Pebley said. "This is what I
want. I feel like it's my event."
While Pebley clearly already is one of the top backstrokers
in the country, next year he will have to compete just to retain that title on
his own team. In 2013-14, Cal will see the arrival of six-star recruit Ryan
Murphy, who has a best 200 back time of 1:40.90.
Pebley has raced internationally with Murphy and the two are
"I couldn't be happier," Pebley said. "My goal is to make
the Olympics, and racing a guy who has the same goal and is on the same level as
me is going to push both of us every day. He's going to be great for the team."
Speaking of the team, the Bears are coming up on judgment
time in college swimming. Cal hosts rival Stanford on Saturday at 1 p.m. at
Spieker Aquatics Complex, then it's off to the Pac-12 Championships next week
in Federal Way, Wash.The Bears will
look for their third straight NCAA championship at the end of March in
"It's always a different group, so even though we have a lot
of guys that return with NCAA experience, it doesn't necessarily mean that
much," Durden said. "There are some great experienced guys that know how to
handle that meet. But it's more how that information is relayed to our younger
guys. I think we have some good swimmers that have some good swims in them. But
we really need to be clicking and firing as a team come the end of March,
rather than just rely on a couple of individuals to take us there."
Football coach Sonny Dykes held a pre-spring practice press conference Wednesday at the Simpson Center, an informal gathering with pizza and about 10 reporters. While Dykes carefully picked all the veggies he could off his pizza slice, he answered several questions from the assembled press. Spring practice begins Monday. Here's a sampling:
On the team's attitude heading into spring ball: "The biggest thing I've seen is how hungry the guys are.
They've been hard-working. They have been spirited. They've been real positive.
That's been the biggest surprise for me in some ways, just based on having a
rough year and maybe the perceived notion of the program in some ways. I think
the guys are hard-working. I think they've really kind of embraced our style up
to this point. It's easy to do that on the front end like they've done, but
they've done a great job of doing everything we've asked them to do. I've
really been pleasantly surprised with all that. In that regard, I think we're
way ahead of schedule."
On the team attending the men's basketball game against UCLA last week: "I think we'll continue to do that kind
of stuff. I'm a big believer in the whole team concept. I'm a big believer of
student-athletes being part of the regular student-body. I think that's
something that we have to encourage our players to be, involved on campus -
whether it's sporting events or whatever else is out there available to those
guys to be supportive of. So many people support them, coming to football games
and cheering and doing that kind of thing. I think that's part of being a good
person and being part of a good student, is embracing the whole 'all or one, and
one for all' idea. The guys had a blast. They were excited to do it. I think
they had more fun than they thought they were going to have. I think they've
been pleasantly surprised, just like I have been, by the positive response that
it generated -- because it's really not that big of a deal."
On what he's seen from the team so far: "The overall athleticism of the team is much better than I
anticipated it would be. But just because you're a good athlete doesn't mean
you're a good football player. That's what we need to find out starting on
Monday, how well that athleticism translates to being a good player."
On whether there's a timeline for naming a starting quarterback: "I'd love to have a starter after Monday. That would be
ideal. One of the guys is so good that everybody goes 'wow.' But I don't
anticipate that happening. The sooner the better. Reps at the quarterback spot
are the most valuable commodity there is. We have to get whoever the starter is
going to be as many reps and as well-prepared as we possibly can."
On what he is looking for in a quarterback: "Timing, accuracy, leadership, ability to inspire confidence
of others - that's probably the most important thing a quarterback can bring."
Eight straight wins. The last four by double-digits. Three
over nationally ranked teams. Twenty wins overall.
Like most coaches, Lindsay Gottlieb wants more. The No. 6 Bears
committed 18 turnovers during their 66-53 win over Arizona State on Friday
night. They missed five free throws. Their energy level wasn't always at
If Cal is hitting its stride, Gottlieb wants it to be a sprint.
But the second-year coach does admit that when her team
dictates the style of a game, the Bears tend to get the results they want.
"Of course, we respect all of our opponents, but I think we
understand if we do the things we do well, it's going to produce results,"
Gottlieb said. "I think our players are buying into that. From a coaching
perspective, you always want to do things better. You want to keep improving
and correct your weaknesses. But I think our players embrace what we do well,
and that gives us a lot of positive momentum. And in women's basketball,
confidence is huge."
And confidence should be high for the Bears (20-2, 10-1
Pac-12). They negotiated the toughest part of their schedule - an eight-game
stretch to begin the conference season that included five ranked opponents - by
going 7-1. And the only team they lost to - Stanford - they ended up beating
four days later. They are comfortably handling the teams they should handle and
remain tied for first place in the Pac-12 standings. They only face one ore
ranked opponent the rest of the regular season.
"Even with our wins, we think we should be doing better,"
said senior guard Layshia Clarendon, who led the Bears on Friday with 18
points. "But it's definitely better than last year, when we learned our lessons
in losses instead of wins. But we're still critical. Our energy dragged
tonight. There are things the fans don't see. We know internally we are always
trying to be better every single game."
Gennifer Brandon had a double-double for the Bears with 10
points and 15 rebounds, her 12th double-double this season and 27th
of her career. Brittany Boyd had 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
And it was a special night for senior Talia Caldwell. When
she drained two free throws with 1:46 left in the first half, she became the 23rd
Cal women's basketball player ever to score 1,000 career points. Caldwell
finished with 14.
"That's cool," Caldwell said. "I appreciate being able to
play since my freshman year. A lot of great players don't get the opportunity
to play their freshman year. I'm thankful I was part of the rotation."
There was also a milestone for Clarendon, who moved into
eighth place on Cal's all-time scoring list with 1,560 points. It's been a big
week for Clarendon, who earlier was named one of 10 finalists for the Senior
CLASS Award and a midseason candidate for the Wade Trophy along with Brandon.
"I have homework due tomorrow," Clarendon said when asked to
recap her week. "I'm really happy because it says 'California' on the bottom.
The team is starting to get national recognition. I'm really happy Cal is
rolling along. I've seen the program grow. It's exciting."
Layshia Clarendon had 18 points, Gennifer Brandon had her 12th double-double of the season with 10 points and 15 rebounds and Brittany Boyd finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Bears cruised in the second half to the win. The Bears have now won seven in a row and improved to 20-2 overall, 10-1 in the conference. Cal remains in a first-place tie with Stanford atop the Pac-12 standings.
The Bears have also won their last four games by double-digits.
The Bears held Arizona St. to 38 percent floor shooting and Layshia Clarendon has 12 points as Cal holds a 36-25 advantage at the half. Cal led 21-8 with 9:35 left but the Sun Devils went on a 9-2 run to cut it to 23-17 with 6:59 left. Arizona St. kept the deficit within single-digits for most of the remainder of the first half but the Bears scored five points in a row to establish a 34-21 advantage after a 3-pointer by Brittany Boyd with 1:22 left.
Boyd has eight points, six rebounds and three assists.
With 1:46 left in the first half, senior Talia Caldwell made two free throws to become the 23rd Cal women's basketball player ever to score 1,000 career points.
One other note: Forward Reshanda Gray is missing her third straight game with a hamstring injury.
About 45 minutes away from tipoff here at Haas Pavilion as the Bears go for their seventh straight victory and look to maintain at least a share of first place in the Pac-12 standings. A win would also be No. 20 on the season for Cal and match the program's best start ever at 20-2.
Special night as it's the "Play 4 Kay Pink Game" designed to raise Breast Cancer awareness. Cal's players made custom T-shirts that will be part of a silent auction during the first half. There also will be plenty of pink in the arena has the first 1,000 fans are being issued pink T-shirts.
Stay tuned throughout the night and on Twitter (@CalBearBlog) for updates.
Cal's women's tennis team doesn't get to play indoors very
often. When it does, there are more differences than just a lack of
In addition to the fact there is no wind, glaring sun or
fluctuating temperature, there is nowhere to hide. And that is a good thing.
Because of the confined quarters, teammates are naturally
closer to each other. That, in turn, fosters more of a team dynamic.
"It's so intense because we cheer so loud on the court,"
said Cal sophomore Zsofi Susanyi, the seventh-ranked singles player in the
country. "It's so much more fun because of that. It's different because it's
indoors and we're kind of close."
The No. 7 Bears gets one of their two indoor experiences of
the year this weekend at the ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championship at
the Boar's Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Va. Cal, the No. 5 seed in the
field, meets No. 16 Michigan on Friday at 3:30 p.m. PT.
The Bears are one of 15 teams that advanced to the event by
winning a ITA Kickoff Weekend title two weeks ago. Host Virginia rounds out the
16-team field. The Bears have reached the semifinals of the Indoor
Championships in three of the past four years, including last season.
"Last year, a bunch of us lost our voices because we were cheering
so loud for each other," Susanyi said. "It's a really big deal. No matter what,
we are going out there to do whatever we can do to win for the team. It's so
much better to win for all of us."
The Indoor Championship traditionally serves as a barometer
for the nation's top teams early in the season. Most of the country's elite
programs will be in Charlottesville, and the Bears are eager to see where they
stack up against top competition.
"It's a national championship," Cal coach Amanda Augustus
said. "It's early in the team season, so everyone is kind of getting a first
look at everyone's team lineup at this time of year. It's a good opportunity
for us to play out of region and play ranked teams that wouldn't ordinarily
come out here and play us in a regular-season match.
Augustus said she is especially interested in exploring her
doubles combinations to see what will be the team's best lineup moving forward.
The Bears are strong at the top of their singles lineup with Susany and junior
Anett Schutting, the nation's No. 9 singles player.
"Doubles-wise, do we have the right combination?" Augustus
said. "We're pretty fortunate this year to have pretty good depth on the team,
so I think we have a lot of options in terms of doubles. This is kind off a
first look at it. We can move stuff around a bit. We need that doubles point to
beat top-5, top-10 teams. That doubles point is huge."
Cal had a strong showing at the annual indoor championship
in the fall, the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in
Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Schutting advanced to the finals while Susanyi made the
Susanyi is Cal's No. 1 singles player. She advanced to the semifinals
of the NCAA Singles championships as a freshman last season.
"Everyone knows Zsofi from last year," Augustus said. "I
think she's ready for it and I think she's excited about it. She knows it's going
to be tough."
The third-ranked Cal softball team opens the 2013 season
Friday at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., and after knocking on the door
of a Women's College World Series championship last season, the Bears are
unified in the singular goal of taking that final step this June.
"Last year, we were hungry. This year, we're hungrier," Cal
senior catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt said. "We have really high expectations of
ourselves this year and we expect to meet them and exceed them. Everyone is working
together. It's exciting to be out here at practice."
The Bears have advanced to each of the past two Women's
College World Series, but last year's ouster stung more because they were
ranked No. 1 most of the season and many pegged them as the favorite heading
into the postseason. The team has adopted the team motto of "Unity 13," a
constant reminder to maintain solidarity throughout the 2013 season.
"They understand they're going to have to be a great team
together," Cal coach Diane Ninemire said. "We'll have some youth out there at
times, and our older players are going to have to be good leaders and help them
out. The team is really blending well together. We're really looking forward to
a great year."
While the Bears return a strong nucleus of returners, they
also will be moving on without their top three hitters in terms of batting
average from last season - Jamia Reid, Frani Echavarria and Valerie Arioto. In
Arioto, Cal loses arguably the top player in the country.
But perhaps most important, senior Jolene Henderson is still
in the circle for the Bears, and that alone makes Cal a championship contender.
Henderson is a two-time first team All-American with the endurance to pitch the
majority of the innings this season for the Bears. As a sophomore in 2011,
Henderson led the country with 333 1/3 innings pitched.
Henderson is a two-time Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year who has
led the nation in shutouts in each of the past two seasons.
"Jolene is one of the top pitchers in the nation," Ninemire
said. "She's a real workhorse out there for our team. She'll throw as many
games and as many innings as we need her to throw.
"She's the most durable pitcher I've ever had on this team. She
doesn't tire. She just keeps going, no matter how tired she is. She's just
highly motivated. She has an unbelievable work ethic. She's in great shape. I
think the more she throws, the better she gets. She is going to have plenty of
opportunity this year to pitch a number of games."
Arioto was also an accomplished pitcher - She started 24
games last season and went 20-3 with a 1.32 ERA. This year, the Bears don't
have an experienced No. 2 starter. Sophomore Nikki Owens and freshmen Nisa
Ontiveros and Taylor Lee will compete to give Henderson a break from the circle
from time to time.
But Henderson and the Bears have been down this road
recently. One of the reasons Henderson led the nation in innings pitched in
2011 is because Arioto missed the season with a broken leg. Without any other
viable options, Henderson ended up starting 40 of Cal's 45 games.
"My freshman year, I wanted to strike everybody out,"
Henderson said. "I've improved mentally a lot. I started thinking about what I can
control instead of trying to control everything. I've read a lot of mind books.
Everyone in college is so good. The mental side can give you an edge."
Despite the loss of some firepower, the Bears still have
threats up and down their lineup. Junior Britt Vonk is Cal's all-time leader in
batting average (.380). Sophomore right fielder Breana Kostreba was selected to
the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team last year after batting .294 with 13 home runs and
42 RBI. Third baseman Danielle Henderson, Jolene's younger sister, had 16
homers and was second on the team with 101 total bases last year.
"The attitude this year is we got there last year but now we
want to win it," Ziegenhirt said. "Not that we didn't want to win it last year,
but this year were even more motivated because we came so close. It's really
exciting to establish your own legacy. We can use the legacy of all the years
before, but every year is a new team and brings something different and exciting
for the season."
The Bears' first assignment this weekend will come against
Kentucky at 10:30 a.m. PT on Friday. Cal is also slated to play Cal State
Northridge, No. 14 Florida and Indiana.
One day after the two-month anniversary of his hiring at
Cal, Sonny Dykes experienced the first major rite of passage as the Bears' head
Make no mistake. Dykes has been busy since he inherited Cal's
program on Dec. 5. He's assembled his coaching staff, immersed himself in
recruiting and started connecting with the campus community.
But Wednesday afforded Dykes the opportunity to make his biggest
mark yet on his stewardship in Berkeley with National Signing Day. And he did
just that by inking 25 players that is considered a consensus top-30 class
nationally, an impressive achievement for a head coach that took over a program
so late in the recruiting calendar.
"You have to get that first recruiting class signed," Dykes
said during an interview in his office as Signing Day wound down. "I feel good
about what we did and what we accomplished. The thing I'm proud of is we added
good people to our program and we added players that will be here and be
productive for a long time."
There was an early-morning buzz at the Cal football offices
Wednesday as the coaching staff and assembled support staff fulfilled their
Signing Day duties. Dykes was in his office by 4:30 a.m., and the first National
Letter of Intent came across the fax machine at 5:07 a.m. That belonged to
defensive tackle Jacobi Hunter of Houston. At 5:29 a.m., the Bears received a
fax from fellow Texan Chad Whitener, a linebacker from Mansield.
"And then somebody showed up with some doughnuts," Dykes
Shortly past 7 a.m., the fax machine set up temporarily in
the football conference room was consistently humming. By just after 9:30 a.m.,
the class was complete. In between, hoots and hollers could be heard from the
coaching staff meeting in the conference room as different faxes made their way
across the machine.
"You never know. You're always worried somebody getting a
late-night phone call or an early-morning phone call," Dykes said. "We were
trying to hold off some schools on a couple of kids. It's a relief when you get
the fax because it's an incredible amount of time and effort invested in these
guys. It's good to see it go your way."
Since Dykes and his staff got a late start recruiting the
2013 class, they figured there was no time like the present to look ahead to
2014. After the last fax arrived, the staff started looking at film of high
school juniors and got on the phone with coaches and athletes with an eye on
"That's the nature of recruiting. It never stops," Dykes
At 1 p.m., Dykes began the media portion of his day. He went
downstairs to the Tahir Family Team Theater for his Signing Day press
conference, where he fielded questions from the press and narrated a video
compilation of all 25 of Cal's new players. Then it was off to do radio interviews
with KNBR 680 AM and 95.7 The Game, television interviews with the Pac-12
Networks and Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and a live chat with fans on
"It's easy to talk about this class because I'm excited
about this group," Dykes said. "I really like these guys. I think they're going
to be very successful."
Finally, in the evening, Dykes ventured over to the
University Club for a Signing Day reception with donors, followed by a
season-ticket holder event in the Field Club.
"It's always fun to see Cal supporters," Dykes said. "It's a
great bunch; so many nice people. It's fun because I'm actually getting to
start to know some of them. I look forward to getting to know them even better."
Dykes plans on being back in the office early Thursday
morning. He and the staff will continue preparations for spring practice and to
recruit for 2014. When the Bears take the Memorial Stadium field for their first
spring session on Feb. 25, it will be another benchmark in the Sonny Dykes era.
You can tell he was pretty happy with the first one.
"It's been a hectic day," Dykes said. "It's good to have
this behind us. It's an exciting day, but there is a lot of work involved. It's
a relief to get these guys signed. The thing I'm always impressed with is how
much interest there is in our program and I'm just excited about the future as
we continue to build."
The women's basketball team gathered in the Haas Pavilion club room this afternoon to decorate T-shirts for this Friday's "Pink Game" against Arizona State. Cal's players will wear the T-shirts during warm-ups and then they will be available during a silent auction in the first half. The fan with the winning bid will have the player belonging to the winning T-shirt present it to him or her after the game.