Bears fail to live up to expectations

With some of the best talent in the country, the Cal men’s gymnastics team had high expectations for itself. But talent was not enough for a national championship, as a Cal squad that had been felled by injuries most of the year finished a disappointing fourth at NCAAs.

The the last day of NCAAs was a fitting end to the 2012 season for Cal — a day full of individual triumphs coupled with an inability to win as a team.

Senior Glen Ishino won the national title on pommel horse in the individual competition and was joined by juniors Donothan Bailey, Dennis Mannhart and Steven Lacombe in receiving All-American honors.

Though the team was healthy in time for NCAAs, the Bears still struggled in their season finale. But in a season of disappointing performances and injuries, the fourth-place finish wasn’t as bad as it seemed.

“Overall, I was happy with the season,” said coach Tim McNeill. “Our scores were a little lower all year, but having our highest scores at NCAAs was the goal all along.”

Hampered by injuries to key gymnasts — Bailey, Ishino and Mannhart — Cal powered through the season by resting its athletes for weeks at a time. Two meets into the season, the team lost Mannhart for two meets when a freak accident left his hand infected and swollen.

Ishino, in an attempt to be healthy in time for NCAA championships and Olympic qualifiers, competed only on the pommel horse until the MPSF conference finals. Bailey continuously led the team as an all-around competitor, but his performances and training were limited because he was constantly battling injuries.

Ishino and Bailey turned out to be disappointments as they were unable to time their successes with the rest of the team. Despite rewarding moments that culminated in the pommel horse national title, Ishino never performed at the level that was expected of him on the other events. The MVP of the team was Mannhart, according to McNeill.

“He showed up every single competition and did his job,” McNeill said. “He placed fifth all-around at NCAAs even with a fall on rings. All year long he was solid for us.”

McNeill planned the season to peak in the postseason, but the team struggled going into NCAAs.

The MPSF meet threw the team for a loop as Ishino and Bailey had their worst performances of the year. Ishino fell on the pommel horse routine, after neglecting other aspects of his training to perfect his pommel horse performance. Yet, McNeill was confident that his team would perform better than they had all year at NCAAs. The fourth-place finish attests to the team’s improvement.

McNeill knows that next year will be very different. Eight seniors are graduating this year, and 14 new freshmen will join the team. Key contributors such as All-Americans Bailey and Lacombe will return next year.

“There’s a lot of talent,” McNeill said. “I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know if we’ll be better or worse than this year. It’s certainly going to be exciting to see what we’re capable of.”