Bears’ performance presents questions for NCAAs

Michael Tao/File
Matthew Del Junco scored a 13.30 on pommel horse and 13.10 on rings for Cal at the MPSF Championships. The Bears finished third, ahead of only Air Force.

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As his team got ready to travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., last week for the MPSF Championships, Cal men’s gymnastics coach Tim McNeill was expecting one of team’s best performances of the year.

Saturday, McNeill’s team disappointed him so much that he struggled to find words to describe it. The No. 7 Bears took third place behind No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Stanford, but the team did not perform at the level that it had in previous competitions. 

“It was not that we got third place, but it was the team’s performance,” McNeill said. “The team is much more prepared than they showed at this meet. The mistakes came out of nowhere—they never happen in practice.”

One of the most disappointing moments of the meet came when senior Glen Ishino fell during his pommel horse routine. The three-time All-American placed sixth despite being widely regarded as the event’s best American. Ishino had been plagued by a back injury this season, limiting him to competing only on pommel horse.

Saturday’s meet began Ishino’s process of returning to all-around competition in time for the NCAA championship meet April 19-21 in Norman, Okla. Ishino competed in four of the six events this weekend but failed to meet the expectations of his teammates and coaches. He placed outside the top five in all of his events.

“Glen had a bad meet,” McNeill said. “He missed all of his routines except for floor.”

Seemingly a savior for the Bears all season, team captain Donathan Bailey battled through a recurring wrist injury to lead the team in all six events. Bailey won the pommel horse and finished third in the all around.

“Donothan had a very good meet,” McNeill said, “and that was good to see since he is still coming back (from the wrist injury).”

McNeill had previously acknowledged the meet as a final tune-up for the NCAA meet. After seeing his team fall apart in its biggest test of the season so far, he just wants to keep a positive mindset.

“This biggest thing is to just learn from our mistakes, put them in the past, and move on,” McNeill said. “This was just a fluke meet and it doesn’t mean anything. The most important thing is to keep up that mentality and make sure that nobody gives up.”

The Bears will have the next two weeks to straighten out mistakes that arose in Colorado and to perfect their routines. Bailey and Ishino, as well as the rest of the team, will also take the opportunity to make sure that they are as healthy as possible for the NCAA Championship.

McNeill will make sure his team’s disappointment does not linger once they return to the gym this week.

“We’re still in contention to win NCAAs,” McNeill said. “We lost this meet because we did poorly. I don’t think the other teams are any better than us.”

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