The city of Fort Worth, Texas, is full of history, dating all the way back to its founding after the brutal Mexican-American War.
This weekend, Fort Worth will be known for something completely different — the host city of the prestigious NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships. The eye of the gymnastics world will be on Texas this weekend, where one school will claim its spot in history.
And like a war, hopes and dreams will be crushed, while others will rise. The No.10 Cal women’s gymnastics team is looking to defy expectations and finish on top, as it’ll be competing at the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1992.
“Nothing had been handed to us, and nothing has been handed to our student-athletes,” said Cal head coach Justin Howell. “They work their butts off every single day, so to me that makes it that much sweeter the higher that we climb.”
Cal’s program reached new heights throughout the season, coming out with lots of energy every single week. On March 11, the Bears set a new program high with a 197.500, and registered season high scores on every single event. Their strongest team score of the day came on bars with a 49.475, the third best score ever for Cal on that event.
The competition the Bears will face Friday will be the toughest in the nation. Cal will be competing in the second of two semifinals at the NCAA Championships, going up against No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Utah, No. 8 UCLA and No. 12 Nebraska.
But the creation of this present team began years ago.
When Howell became head coach in 2012, he knew there was plenty of work to do. The program was in dire need of a change after being cut, so he went straight to work from day one.
The real potential of the Bears was increased last year with the addition of now-sophomore Toni-Ann Williams. She instantly had an impact, leading Cal to a third-place finish at the 2015 NCAA Regionals. And this has continued this season, recently being awarded NACGC/W West Region Gymnast of the Year. She also tied her career-best all around score with a 39.700.
Even though Williams was the main factor in leading the team to Texas, unfortunately for the Bears, she won’t be joining them. She has her mind on even greater heights: Olympic gold. This weekend she’ll be competing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, trying to qualify for the summer olympics as a member of the Jamaican team.
Luckily for Cal, the entire team has begun to come out of its shell and thrive. This has especially been true of junior Zoe Draghi, who has developed at a remarkable rate this year. This season, she recorded a new career high on beam with a 9.90, as well as a new high of 9.925 on floor.
The best three teams from each of the two semifinals will make it on to the prestigious Super Six team finals. The Bears finished in eighth place 24 years ago, the only other time they qualified for a ticket to the championships.
Cal has already defied all expectations this year as no one expected them to accomplish what they have so far. But everything’s bigger in Texas, and in the Bears’ eyes, there’s no reason they can’t make this season even more historic.
“To go through the process and actually reach our goal is a great feeling,” Howell said. “I’ve always felt like this program could be one of the best in the country.”
Alex Quintana covers softball. Contact him at [email protected]