No. 17 Cal women’s gymnastics falls just short of No. 4 UCLA on road

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Michael Wan/File

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LOS ANGELES — On Saturday night in Westwood, California, 13,659 people filled Pauley Pavilion to watch star freshman Lonzo Ball and No. 2 UCLA take on Washington State. It was UCLA’s senior night, and the game was being broadcasted on ESPN. Despite trailing the Cougars with less than 10 minutes to go, the Bruins came away with a 77-68 win.

Many of those fans must have stuck around because not even 12 hours later, 12,576 of them were back inside Pauley. This time, however, ESPN had cleared out and the shiny hardwood of Nell and John Wooden Court was covered by a 40-square-foot spring floor. Oh, and the athletes were wearing leotards.

It was No. 17 Cal women’s gymnastics against No. 4 UCLA, and the crowd was no less rowdy than the one from the previous night’s basketball game.

“Anytime you come into an arena where there’s 10,000 plus fans, you feed off of it,” said Cal head coach Justin Howell. “It’s great. What a fun environment to be competing in and coaching in for our student athletes. It’s amazing.”

While the Bears fell just short of a victory against the star-studded Bruins, they did put up their highest road score of the season on the shoulders of four 49-plus event scores.

Starting the meet off on bars, Cal looked centered despite the distractions of the raucous crowd. Thanks to beautiful lines all around and a number of stuck dismounts, the Bears were tied with the Bruins after the first rotation.

Vault featured six solid scores, with junior Arianna Robinson and senior Emily Richardson unsurprisingly leading the team with a pair of 9.850s. Senior Desiree Palomares had an impressive stuck landing as well, earning a 9.775.

On floor, the Bears’ performances were not only clean but also had the audience engaged. Palomares made a strong statement during her routine by emphatically sticking a back double pike amid an eruption of cheers because of judges awarding UCLA sophomore Katelyn Ohashi a perfect 10 for her just-finished beam routine. Junior Yuleen Sternberg also came in clutch for Cal, putting up a 9.825 in the first floor routine of her collegiate career. She was filling in for sophomore Sylvie Seilnacht who fractured her foot earlier in the week. In the meantime, UCLA put together a 49.550 rotation on bars — one of its two in the meet.

In the final rotation with UCLA on the floor, the arena was on its feet. The Bruins are known for their flashy, theatrical floor routines choreographed by legendary head coach Valorie Kondos-Field. Over on beam, though, the Bears were not to be overlooked. They put together a 49.325 rotation, which was the best score of their season on the event and matched the second-highest beam score in program history.

But in the end, it was not enough to put the Bears over the top, with the final score coming in at 197.525-196.800. That will, however, provide the boost in Regional Qualifying Score that Cal needs with the postseason just two weeks away.

“We needed a strong away meet and we got one,” Howell said. “Overall, I was incredibly proud of what they did. Our energy was great, and we celebrated. I felt like we put together a complete performance. We’ll take the score, we’ll run with it and look forward to next weekend.”

So while the Bears could not bring down the mighty Bruins, they did get to perform in front of an energized crowd of more than 10,000 people. UCLA’s successful effort to “pack Pauley” was mostly a reflection of its historical dominance as a program, but it was also an indication of the respect that Cal has earned as a top-25 team.

Adriana Ghiozzi covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].

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