There’s something beautiful about watching the gymnastics of sophomore Toni-Ann Williams. At her best, she makes the sport look so easy, like almost nothing could stop her. Not even walking pneumonia.
Williams fought the bug all last week before entering Friday’s home finale against Southern Utah, Michigan State and Lindenwood. Her illness prevented her from performing on all four events like usual, but that didn’t mean she had no impact.
She persuaded Cal head coach Justin Howell to put her in on floor; and Williams didn’t disappoint, leading the Bears to victory in their final event of the night, finishing with a team-high floor score of 9.925. This was the second best floor score of the day, just behind Michigan State’s Elena Lagoski.
“I didn’t train at all because I had pneumonia, so it’s definitely been a ride this week, but I’m just so happy I was able to get out there and compete for the team,” Williams said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve done, I couldn’t really breathe after that floor routine but my adrenaline was pumping.”
But the night for the Bears didn’t begin the way they wanted. Cal came out with very little energy on vault, finishing with a less-than-stellar team score of 48.950. Junior Emily Richardson led the charge for Cal with a vault score of 9.825, but the rest of the Bears couldn’t live up to her performance. There was a three-way tie for the second best vault score, 9.80, between sophomores Williams and Arianna Robinson and junior Desiree Palomares.
Cal then moved on to bars, where it finished with a 49.225. The Bears got a surprise performance from sophomore Yuleen Sternberg, ending with a team-high 9.90. Freshman Sofie Seilnacht, who had never performed on bars in her collegiate career until last week, proved once again that her place in the lineup is much deserved. She finished behind Sternberg with a bars score of 9.875, just above Williams’ and Richardson’s score of 9.850.
The next two events were all about junior Zoe Draghi, who has improved at a significant pace this season. Draghi put up a flawless beam routine, never flustering or losing her balance. And the judges took notice, awarding her with a team-high beam score of 9.90. This score was also good enough for her to take the event title on beam. Junior Jessica Howe and Richardson also put up strong routines, finishing with a score of 9.850. In the end, the Bears smoked the competition on beam with a score of 49.150, the next closest being Michigan State’s 48.325.
Draghi and Williams led the Bears on floor, their final and strongest event of the day, a 49.325. Williams’ routine came so naturally that not one fan was able to tell she was suffering from pneumonia, putting up a team-high 9.925. Draghi closed out the day for Cal with a floor score of 9.90, taking the team’s final score to 196.650. Her score ensured victory for the Bears in their home finale, success they’ll be looking to take into the Pac-12 championship in fewer than two weeks.
“Everybody’s tired and everybody’s fighting something, but that’s the way it is heading into the postseason,” Howell said. “I’m hopeful that we can become re-energized over the next couple weeks and be ready for a great Pac-12 championships.”
Alex Quintana covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]