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July 17, 2011

Bear Goggles: World Cup Edition



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2011 may technically be the Year of the Rabbit, but with Alex Morgan's goal in the 69th minute of the FIFA Women's World Cup final, and her assist on Abby Wambach's goal in the 104th minute in an eventual loss to Japan on penalty kicks, she made the latest statement in what has been a months-long dissertation with one singular thesis: This is the Year of the California Golden Bear.

From the NFL Playoffs, where Marshawn Lynch went all Beast Mode with perhaps one of the greatest runs in league history, to the 14 former Bears on playoff rosters, to the eventual Super Bowl triumph of former Cal stars Aaron Rodgers and Desmond Bishop, the fall belonged to the Blue and Gold, if not in Memorial Stadium, then at least on the professional gridiron and on the recruiting trail.

Men's water polo came within two goals of defeating USC in the NCAA Final, losing 12-10 at Spieker Aquatics Complex in December.

That was only the start of a run at what Cal alum and Yahoo! Sports ace reporter Michael Silver dubbed the Aqua Slam.

When winter rolled around, it was the Baby Bears that took center stage, as Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Allen Crabbe helped lead the Cal men's basketball team to the NIT in what was considered by many to be a rebuilding year.

As winter turned to spring, it was time for more action in the pool, as both the men's and women's swimming and diving teams took home NCAA crowns in March, and women's water polo reached the NCAA final, falling to Stanford, 9-5.

Both men's and women's tennis reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament, with Jana Juricova taking home the national singles title on her way to being named the ITA National Player of the Year.

The No. 23-ranked men's tennis doubles team of junior Nick Andrews and sophomore Christoffer Konigsfeldt reached the NCAA Men's Tennis Championships, dropping a narrow 6-4, 7-5 decision to Florida's 17th-ranked duo in the first round.

In the 2011 NFL Draft, defensive end Cameron Jordan became the second straight Cal defensive lineman to be taken in the first round, heading up a contingent of four former Bears to be selected by NFL teams.

Former Cal star Jason Kidd and one-time Bears signee Dirk Nowitzki took home the NBA title in mid-June, putting the Larry O'Brian Trophy right next to the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the Cal mantle.

Perhaps the greatest victories came as the summer sun began to warm. After the school cut four sports -- baseball, men's and women's gymnastics and women's lacrosse -- and relegated men's rugby to "varsity club" status, the Cal community rallied to the cause, raising millions of dollars to save the endangered programs.

The face of that effort, of course, was Cal baseball, which reached the College World Series for the first time since 1992. The Bears eliminated Texas A&M in the second game for the program's first victory in Omaha in 31 years, as Brandon Morrow, Tyson Ross, Allen Craig and Brennan Boesch made their marks in the Major Leagues and head coach David Esquer earned three National Coach of the Year honors. Of the seven players drafted by Major League teams off of that squad, three have signed professional contracts, leaving senior pitching standout Kevin Miller and juniors Dixon Anderson, Chadd Krist and Matt Flemer still un-inked, opening the door for a repeat performance in 2012 should the trio of juniors decide to return.

Not to be outdone was Diane Ninemire's softball team, which returned to Oklahoma City for the Bears' first Women's College World Series appearance since 2005 on the arm of pitcher Jolene Henderson.

Newly-reinstated men's rugby won its 26th national title in May, its eighth in the last 10 years and 19th in the last 21 under head coach Jack Clark.

On July 3, the men's crew freshman 8 boat won the Temple Challenge Cup at the prestigious Henley Regatta for the first time since 2007, after the Varsity Eight took third in the IRA Grand Final back in June, backing up a fourth-place NCAA finish and conference title by the women's varsity eight.

Yes, this was a year to remember for Cal sports, marking the University's highest Director's Cup finish ever, coming in third behind Stanford and Ohio State.

So, sit back, relax, grab a cold beverage, and take a listen to the latest installment of the Bear Goggles Podcast for our first Year in Review.



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