Editor’s Note: Over summer, the Daily Californian will be releasing its power rankings of Cal’s sports as decided by the Daily Cal sports staff. Stay tuned for No. 8 and No. 7 next week!
At first glance, being ranked the No. 7 team in the country seems pretty incredible for the Cal men’s gymnastics team.
But that number looks much less impressive when put into context, as there are only 17 men’s gymnastics programs in the country.
So is the team one of the best in the country or nothing more than a middle-of-the pack program that couldn’t even make the NCAA finals last year? The rankings can be deceptive, but going beyond the numbers, there can be no mistake about it — the Cal men’s gymnastics team is one of the top programs in the country and has an incredibly bright future in front of it.
Let’s consider how the team earned its No. 7 ranking.
Two and a half years ago, the men’s gymnastics team was one of five programs scheduled to be cut by the university. Almost eight months later, in May 2011, the team was saved by a fundraising effort that raised more than $2.5 million.
Although the program itself was saved, the proposed cut had a detrimental effect. It’s no surprise that recruiting for the 2012 season was nearly impossible, as for most of that recruiting season, the program appeared to be doomed. No aspiring athlete wanted to risk joining the team, and only one freshman was on the squad in 2012.
But in 2013, the program’s recruitment picked up, and the squad of 21 players featured 13 new freshmen.
Considering that more than half of the team’s roster constitutes freshmen and that the team nearly didn’t exist a few short years ago, a No. 7 national ranking is incredible. Though the squad, which used to perennially rank within the top five, has seen a drop-off in recent years, the team has done more than enough in the face of such unprecedented diversity to warrant the Daily Cal’s No. 10 power ranking.
And the Bears came unbelievably close to ranking much higher than No. 7. In a qualifying section for the NCAAs, Cal earned a fourth-place finish by just a tenth of a point, knocking the team out of the NCAA finals for the first time since 1999 and ending the Bears’ season. Had the team made the finals, there’s no telling how well they could have done.
But the strength of this team is in its youth. Though the squad will lose star senior Steven Lacombe to graduation, the team will retain a core of young, talented players who are expected to return the team to its usual spot within the top five. Among those returning are freshmen Takahiro Kawada, Kyle Zemeir, Jonathan Liu and TJ Bzoskie, all of whom qualified for the NCAA individual finals. The team will be led by incoming senior Jeffrey Langenstein, who also qualified in floor, his top event.
So by just looking at the rankings, it appears that 2013 was a down year for the Bears, who finished in fourth just last year. But looking beyond statistics, is it clear that this squad is not only one of the best in the country now but that it will be for a long time.