When the No. 10 Cal women’s gymnastics team walked to the uneven bars, its last event of the Tuscaloosa Regional, it knew there was no room for error. With a 146.750, the Bears were in third place behind Boise State’s 146.825, just outside the two team cut to make it to the NCAA Championships.
The pressure was on — pressure that got to freshman Sofie Seilnacht, who took a hard fall on the high bar as the third one up on the event. The next three gymnasts needed to hit their routines or risk having a disappointing end to the postseason.
But, luckily for the Bears, experienced junior Jessica Howe was able to step up, responding by finishing with a team-high of 9.875. Sophomore Toni-Ann Williams didn’t disappoint either, ending her bars routine with a 9.850. And closing it out was sophomore Yuleen Sternberg with a 9.825. The Bears now waited for Boise State to wrap up its rotation on beam, and when the news got back to Cal that it made the cut for the NCAA Championships, it was one of the best moments in program history.
“It was an indescribable feeling. All the hard work the girls have put in this season has paid off, and I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” said Cal head coach Justin Howell. “The last event showed that we’re fighters and we don’t give up, these girls have each other’s back whenever there’s a mistake or fall, so we had no doubt that they’d be able to recover.”
The final team score of 195.925 was enough for the Bears to finish in second place at the Tuscaloosa Regional, securing a spot in the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1992. Cal will begin competition in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 15 and attempt to make this season even more historic.
Cal was thrown into the fire straight from the beginning, starting the night out on beam. A year ago, beam was the one event that hurt the Bears the most at the NCAA Regionals, where they finished the event with a 48.700. It was this event that largely contributed to Cal’s third place finish, leaving it just outside the cut to make it to Forth Worth, Texas last year.
Seilnacht began the night for the Bears with plenty of energy, finishing with a team-high beam score of 9.825. Junior Zoe Draghi also started the day out strong with the same score. Both of them led the Bears to a team beam score of 48.900 to begin the meet.
After a second rotation bye, Cal then moved on to floor for its second event of the day, the strongest event of the year for the Bears, who entered the weekend as the 11th best floor team in the nation. Unfortunately, this didn’t come across when looking at the Bears on Saturday, as they finished with a team floor score of 48.975. Draghi, the last to perform on floor, led the pack with a 9.875.
And the team didn’t make things any easier for itself on its third event of vault, finishing with a team-low 48.875. Sophomore Arianna Robinson was the only Bear that had a strong showing, finishing with a vault score of 9.850. And from there, the rest is history, as the Bears were able to pull ahead of Boise State in their last event. Alabama, with 197.125, is the only team that finished ahead of Cal.
The last event of the night was like a summary of Cal’s entire season: Team members picked each other up in times of need. The Bears will need each other more than ever when they travel to Texas in two weeks, territory they haven’t touched in 24 years.
Alex Quintana covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]