The saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt. If this holds true, there is no love lost in the men’s gymnastics rivalry between Cal and Stanford.
The Bears and the Cardinal will meet up for the fifth and final time this season on Saturday at Burnham Pavilion in Palo Alto. The No. 5 Bears will attempt to win the season series, having split the first four competitions with the No. 4 Cardinal. The meet will also feature an exhibition appearance by the Japanese college All-Stars.
After beating Stanford on Sunday at Haas Pavillion, the Bears are looking to hold the Cardinal back as they compete in their last meet before a five-week break.
“Our goal is to get healthy,” junior team captain and MPSF Player of the Week Donothan Bailey said at practice Thursday.
The Bears have struggled with injuries throughout the season. Bailey has been a strong point for the team, continuously competing in all six events despite constant fatigue and pain.
Others are more focused on overall improvement. The Bears had a strong showing Sunday but struggled on the high bars before having a very weak performance on the floor.
“It’s hard when we have five falls in one event,” senior Glen Ishino said. “We can have maybe one, but we need to do better on our floor events.”
Coach Tim McNeil is more optimistic about the direction his team is going in.
“I’m looking forward to having one more regular season meet against Stanford,” McNeil said. “We’ve been battling back and forth, and we’re 2-2, so we’re really trying to come out ahead and make that record 3-2.”
McNeil also thinks that Sunday’s win will help the Bears in their final push towards the National Championship.
“That was so far our best competition of the year,” McNeil said. “I think it gives the guys a lot of confidence just beating Stanford a few days ago with that still fresh in their minds.”
Looking toward the weekend, McNeil knows that winning is important, but staying healthy is equally vital.
Cal’s biggest strengths going into the competition are its upperclassmen and all around gymnasts. Bailey has led the Bears through the beginning of a rough and injury-plagued season. Ishino, despite only competing on pommel horse this week, has consistently paced the team in its strongest event, one in which they are ranked No. 1 in the country.
Stanford, too, has been hurt by a string of injuries. With a smaller roster, it has become increasingly harder to recover, which helped lead to its loss to Cal on Sunday. In contrast to the Bears, who have struggled on the floor, Stanford has strong tumblers. They are led by junior Eddie Penev, the defending national champion in the floor event. The Cardinal are also strong on vault, ranked No. 1.
“We’re not looking to go beat Stanford on floor or vault,” McNeil said, “though we’re looking to beat them overall in the competition.”