The Air Force Academy’s primary goal is to prepare its students to become cadets who one day fight and lead in the military. The Falcons, however, don’t just prepare to fight as cadets — the No. 10 Air Force Academy’s men’s gymnastics team, as evidenced by its results, is working just as hard for its competitions. But the Bears’ current record is very similar to that of the Falcons — Cal is currently 1-4 while the Air Force is 2-4. And Saturday, the two teams will be pitted against each other in Haas Pavilion to determine which is the better team.
No. 8 Cal is currently in a tough three-game losing streak, while the Air Force is coming off a loss against Oklahoma after beating Navy on Feb. 11. Based on Cal’s most recent loss to No. 11 Michigan, nothing can be assumed about Saturday’s meet against the Air Force in spite of the two teams’ rankings.
Ranked fifth on the pommel horse, fifth on the still rings, ninth on the parallel bars and 10th on the high bar, the Falcons are a strong top-10 NCAA team. In contrast, the Bears have been struggling to find their groove, currently placed 16th on the pommel horse, 10th on the still rings, 13th on the parallel bars and fourth on the high bar. The Falcons are strongest on the two events that have plagued Cal throughout the season: the pommel horse and the still rings. And if the Bears aren’t conscientious about the mistakes they’ve repeatedly been making, they could lose the meet solely based on those two events.
Cal’s best gymnast on the pommel horse is sophomore Aaron Mah – currently tied for 40th in the nation. Senior Nicholas Del Junco is ranked 70th in the nation, yet he most recently scored an underwhelming 9.900 in the event against Michigan. Air Force, however, has senior captain Tim Wang, whose favorite event is the pommel horse because of its difficulty. Wang is currently ranked fourth in the nation with a career high of 14.900, and teammate junior Fletcher Braunton is 19th in the nation with a high score of 14.300.
Despite their shortcomings on the pommel horse, the high bar can definitely help the Bears shine and ultimately outperform the Falcons. Cal has an incredibly strong presence on the high bar, especially with two top-20 gymnasts in junior Yordan Aleksandrov, currently eighth in the nation, and Mah, currently 19th. Grad student and captain Capri Sano can also help the Bears succeed, as he is tied for 28th.
A competition is a competition. The Air Force will leave all of its trainings for the military outside Haas Pavilion, as gymnastics training will reign supreme in deciding who the eventual winner will be. Cal, in the meantime, needs to focus on its strong events this weekend to make up for the points it will likely lose on events like the pommel horse. If not, the Falcons will use their strong events, which just happen to be Cal’s weaker events, to win the meet.
Avanti Mehrotra covers men’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected]al.org