Cal women’s gymnastics reaches NCAA Championships for first time since 1992, places 7th

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Phillip Downey/File

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Last season, the Cal women’s gymnastics team broke new ground, finishing in third place at the NCAA Regionals. The Bears’ final team score of 196.00 was the best finish in program history, just falling short of enough to move on to the NCAA Championships.

The Bears didn’t miss their opportunity this year, however, and made this season even more historic than the last. Cal gained a ticket to the NCAA Championships after finishing in second place at the Tuscaloosa Regional on April 2. All the hard work from the season paid off, with the Bears’ all-around score of 195.925 only falling behind Alabama’s 197.125. This earned Cal a ticket to Fort Worth, Texas, the first time it qualified for the NCAA Championships since 1992.

And the Bears didn’t disappoint when they went to the Lone Star State on April 15, securing a seventh place national finish with a 195.950. This was the team’s best ever finish at nationals, one spot better than their eighth place showing 24 years ago.

Even though Cal didn’t win a national championship that day, it didn’t walk away completely empty-handed. Both head coach Justin Howell and assistant coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell were honored for all their hard work this season. Howell was awarded NACGC/W National Head Coach of the Year, while Crandall-Howell was awarded NACGC/W Assistant Coach of the Year.

Cal’s potential this year was first on display in a UC Davis tri-meet March 11, the team’s last regular season meet of the season. The Bears reached new heights by setting a new program-high score, 197.500. Cal also set a new season high on every single event, with the highlights of the night being a 49.35 on beam and a 49.45 on floor. This was the best ever beam total and second best floor total in school history.

But all the team success the Bears enjoyed this season first developed at the individual level, as every single gymnast drastically improved. One Bear that really came into her own was junior Zoe Draghi. She set several new career highs this season, including scores of 9.925 on floor and a 9.90 on beam.

Sophomore Toni-Ann Williams was yet another bright spot for the team this year. She proved this season that she had maintained her freshman year form, tying her career-high all-around score of 39.700.

All this hard work earned her the NACGC/W West Region Gymnast of the Year award, but that still wasn’t her greatest honor. The eyes of the whole world will be on Williams this summer, as she’ll be competing for Jamaica at the Summer Olympics.

And there’s one fact about this team that makes the future look even brighter — all of its starting gymnasts will return next year. It’s likely that next season will be even more special than the last.

“We’re so proud, these girls have worked so hard every single day through lots of injuries and challenges,” Howell said. “They really stayed true to the mission of our team, which is ‘one day better,’ and they continued to get better all the way up until the end of the season.”

Contact Alex Quintana at [email protected]