1998. That was the last time the Cal men’s gymnastic team hoisted the national championship trophy.
This year, the team qualified for the NCAA meet for yet another year, but the chances at capturing that elusive fifth title look slim. Cal goes in as the ninth-ranked team out of 12 and will compete in the same group as top-ranked Penn State, the school hosting the championship in State College, Penn.
However, Cal has one thing going for it this season that was absent in years past.
For the first time, the national championship is using the five-up, five-count format in which only five gymnasts compete per event and every single competitor’s score is counted. As a team whose strength is in its depth, Cal could benefit greatly from the new meet structure.
“With this new formatting, it gives an opportunity to teams that are more consistent over the more powerful teams that may not always hit,” said assistant coach JT Okada.
The Bears will suit up against No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 8 Iowa and No. 13 Temple, as well as to the Nittany Lions, at 4 p.m. on Friday night. The top three teams out of the evening qualifying session will move on to the second day of competition. Cal lost to the Cardinal five times during the regular season but beat Temple in their only meeting on March 10.
Although the odds do not seem to favor the Bears, the squad is coming off a successful start to postseason competition with a third-place finish at the MPSF meet on April 6, losing only to title-winner Oklahoma and Stanford. Although the Bears lost to two teams, they will have to beat this weekend, the MPSF result was subtly encouraging.
“At MPSF, we didn’t get off to the best start, but we stuck with it,” Okada said. “We want to underscore the resilience factor going into (NCAAs).”
Senior Steven Lacombe carried the Bears at MPSFs and will now be counted on further. Lacombe, ranked 10th nationally in the still rings, will be relied upon to turn in a stellar performance on the big stage, considering that the senior has been to the national meet every year during his Cal career.
“Even though the freshmen have been on the national stage in high school, there is always the factor of experience in the title competition,” Okada said.
Another event the Bears will hope for big points from is the floor routine. The floor team is ranked fifth nationally and is led by redshirt junior Jeffrey Langenstein. Known for his double layout dismount after his floor exercise, Langenstein will need to do better than the fourth-place finish he recorded at MPSF if Cal is to have a chance at the title.
Yet no matter how well Langenstein and Lacombe perform, they will need the help of the whole squad if the Bears hope to make it to day two of championship weekend. With the new format, anything is possible.
“No event will make or break us,” Okada said. “It’s not just one event, one routine. It’s the culmination of persevering through events that don’t go well and shining in events that do go well.”
Contact Austin Crochetiere at [email protected].