On March 21, the No. 10 Cal women’s gymnastics team huddled together in front of a screen, waiting to hear from the NCAA on what teams they’ll be facing in the upcoming NCAA Regionals competition Saturday.
The teams chosen to go up against the Bears are host No. 4 Alabama, No. 15 Boise State, No. 22 Kentucky, West Virginia and Bowling Green. The selection was only received with excitement, because the Bears knew they had a legitimate shot of making it to the NCAA Finals.
The rules for the Tuscaloosa Regional are simple: Finish in the top two and you’re guaranteed a ticket to Forth Worth, Texas, on April 15-16. An opportunity to place your school’s name in history.
“One of the things we talk about for our program is shattering limitations, and I’ve feel like we’ve done that this year, and I think that we’ll continue to do it into the postseason,” said Cal head coach Justin Howell. “To be ranked No.10 in the country is a pretty special thing, so I couldn’t be more proud of our program right now.”
The Bears have been making history all season long, so in their eyes they might as well continue. The highlight of the season came on March 11, when they traveled to UC Davis to compete in a tri-meet. Cal finished by taking the program to new heights, scoring a new school high of 197.500. This gave the team plenty of confidence when they entered the Pac-12 Championships a week later, finishing in fourth place with 196.725, its best ever score at this meet. And that wasn’t all — Howell also received Pac-12 Coach of the Year, the second of his career.
But now’s the time for Cal to not just make a name for itself in the conference, but in the nation.
The toughest opponent this weekend will be No. 1 seed Alabama, a team that’s entering the meet with an average score of 196.977 on the year. The Crimson Tide have three All-Americans who will try to spoil Cal’s postseason: senior Laureen Beers, junior Aja Sims and sophomore Kiana Winston. Winston’s scores of 9.950 on bars and floor helped in leading Alabama to a second place finish at the SEC Championships, ending with a team score of 197.750.
But the Bears have a newly announced All-American themselves: sophomore Toni-Ann Williams. It was performances like a floor meet high of 9.925 at the Pac-12 Championships that allowed her to repeat as an All-American. She, along with sophomore Arianna Robinson, were also named Pac-12 honorees. Williams took first team honors on vault and floor, while Robinson earned a second-team honors on vault.
Cal wouldn’t be here though if they didn’t have a talented all-around roster. And they do, with Bears such as junior Zoe Draghi, junior Desiree Palomares and the newly arrived freshman Seilnacht twins.
“I think if we really dial in our landings and execute our skills just a little bit cleaner we could improve a point from where we are right now, which would be huge continuing into the postseason,” Howell said.
The Bears already proved that they belong with the best teams in their conference, but now it’s time to prove that they can match up with the best teams in the country.
Contact Alex Quintana at [email protected]