Conference championships are important to most teams. The Cal men’s gymnastics team doesn’t think so.
The Bears will travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., this weekend to compete in the MPSF Championship meet on Saturday. Their focus, however, is on the NCAA championship two weeks away.
The top 12 teams in the country will compete in the NCAA meet. The rankings are based on a team’s best three performances out of four meets. The MPSF Championship is one of those four meets, but with the No. 7 ranking the Bears are almost guaranteed to remain in the top 12.
“It’s a given,” said head coach Tim McNeil. “We’re definitely going to qualify. Even if we stayed home from MPSFs we’d still qualify. It just counts as a meet that goes into the ranking system.”
The Bears are more prepared for this Saturday’s meet than any other competition thus far. Senior Glen Ishino will put his body to the test after having been limited to competing on pommel horse for the most of the year due to a back injury. He is trying to work his way back to all six events by the NCAA meet. Even not at his best, his team is glad to have him back.
“It does a lot for our confidence knowing they have such a good leader and teammate competing with them,” McNeil said. “We’ve really protected Glen this year with the idea that he would be able to do more for us later in the season, and I’m really glad we stuck to that plan.”
In contrast, the Bears may be without junior Donathan Bailey. The team captain has carried the team for most of the season, battling through pain so that his teammates could rest their own injuries. Lately, Bailey has been bothered by a wrist injury, but McNeil expects him to still compete in at least five events, possibly all six.
“He’s still not 100 percent,” McNeil said. “But he is such a phenomenal competitor that even in pain he’s able to still perform incredible routines and get good scores.”
McNeil hopes that others will help support Bailey if he is unable to compete through the pain.
Junior Dennis Mannhart could do just that. Now fully recovered from a hand infection that plagued him early in the season, he will be a major factor for the Bears both the MPSF and NCAA championships.
“(Mannhart) looks incredible,” McNeil said. “He’s in contention to win the all-around.”
The biggest competition for the Bears in the MPSF Championship will be No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Stanford. They will also be the teams to beat in the NCAA tournament.
McNeil has not ruled out beating those two teams and winning the meet. Cal has met Stanford five times this season, coming away with three victories. The only competition with Oklahoma was at one of those Stanford meets, when Oklahoma bested both the Bears and Cardinal on Feb. 12 at Haas Pavillion.
“We know it could be anybody’s meet,” McNeil said. “Based on what I know now, we could easily go in, have a good meet and come out with the conference title.”