Losing is difficult. Losing to your, and your school’s, longtime rival, is especially difficult. There are, however, silver linings to be found in the little triumphs rather than the ultimate and overall win or loss. Especially when a competition outcome isn’t favorable, a team must focus on the present, not the past or future, and their smaller achievements – something the No. 11 Cal men’s gymnastics has repeatedly had to do this entire season.
Cal fell to No. 2 Stanford on Saturday for the fourth time this season, 422.900 – 406.000. Yet in spite of the 16-point margin, the final score in of itself was one of the Bears’ successes of the night. Despite competing against one of the toughest teams in the nation, which can often affect one’s performance and psyche going into a competition, Cal tallied one of its highest team totals of the entire season.
On the high bar, the Bears fell behind the Cardinal by just under one point, 67.600 – 66.650. Cal junior Gagik Gharibyan placed second in the entire event, less than half a point behind Stanford senior and event winner Taylor Seaton. And even with having to face the likes of Stanford senior Akash Modi, one of the Cardinal’s strongest gymnasts, Cal placed two more on the podium as junior Yordan Aleksandrov and sophomore Aaron Mah tied for third overall behind Gharibyan. Two of the top three spots in the event went to three Bears, so despite the event loss, it was another small team success nonetheless.
During the floor exercise, which happened to be both Cal’s and Stanford’s strongest team events of the evening, the Bears notched yet another minor victory. Although each and every Cardinal broke a score of 14.200, which are difficult scores to beat, Cal redshirt junior Michael Rauchwerger came in third overall with a score of 14.700, only behind Modi and Seaton.
The pommel horse, however, proved to be a more difficult event for the Bears yet again, and it was their lowest team event score of the night. Even with the team-low score, not a single Bear scored below a 12.500 and Mah placed fourth overall with a 13.600. This feat, too, marked a vast improvement in team performance, as they have struggled mightily in the event throughout the season.
In the Pac-12 Invitational, when the Bears last faced the Cardinal, redshirt sophomore Mitchell Awisus had the highest score for Cal with a 12.900. During the Invitational, Awisus placed behind all five Cardinal gymnasts. Nabbing a top-five finish counts as an improvement, no matter how slight.
Sure, competition wins are ultimately what compose a team’s rankings and leave a mark in sports history. But what defines a team’s self-confidence, future success and talent? Each and every one of the small victories. Even though the Bears didn’t win the Big Flip Off, they showed the nation why they still deserve a top-15 NCAA ranking. Having finished their last meet of the regular season, the Bears must look to continue perfecting the smaller things and get a competition win postseason.
Avanti Mehrotra covers men’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected]