At the second qualifying session of the NCAA finals late Friday night, the scoreboard was littered with names and numbers, but two figures stood out above the rest.
Cal and Iowa were locked up at 426.450 with no events remaining. The two teams were tied for third.
With only three teams advancing to the Saturday’s team final, the tension in the tiny gym in State College, Penn., could be cut with a knife.
Suddenly, Iowa’s score jumped to 426.550. A Hawkeye inquiry awarded a bonus tenth of a point for a successful landing that the judges had missed earlier in the contest. As Iowa celebrated, the Bears looked on, shocked at the sudden change of circumstances.
The Cal men’s gymnastics team’s season came down to a tenth of a point, but the Bears were on the wrong side of the decision.
The night began with Cal and Iowa paired in the same rotation, setting the stage for an exciting finish. As in a tennis match, the two teams went back and forth, matching each other event for event.
When a Hawkeye would nail a floor routine, the Bears would come right back with a strong stick of their own, leveling the point difference.
In four of the six events, all of Cal’s scores were higher than 71.250. While scores above 71 usually bode well for any squad’s chances in the NCAA prelims, the Bears were sunk by two poor events — a 68.800 in the pommel horse and a 69.150 on the high bar.
In the pommel event, freshman Takahiro Kawada did all he could to help his team advance. Kawada, who has been consistent in the pommel event all season, scored second in the event with a 14.950. However, his teammates couldn’t follow suit, with three of them scoring below a 13.400.
Senior Steven Lacombe also did his part to carry the Bears, finishing in the top 10 in most of his events. Lacombe, who has made the NCAA finals in his last three seasons, took care of business in rings, his signature event, with a first-place score of 15.500.
But then, Lacombe pleasantly surprised many with a sixth-place finish in both the vault and the floor exercise, despite neither being his strength.
The Bears, as a team, finished the strongest in the floor exercise. Junior Jeffrey Langenstein’s third-place performance of 15.150 and Lacombe’s 14.900 paced Cal, which posted a 73.500 total on the floor, the second-best, behind Stanford, in the qualifying session.
After the dust settled following the evening events of the qualifying session, Penn State, Stanford and Iowa advanced. The Bears, ranked ninth coming into the 12-team meet, beat out No. 12 Temple and No. 5 Ohio State.
On Saturday night, the Bears watched Michigan take the overall title and, on Sunday, cheered on their teammates who had qualified for the individual finals.
But the lasting memory from the NCAA weekend occurred on the first night — the moment that Iowa’s 426.450 changed to a 426.550.
Contact Austin Crochetiere at [email protected].