Gymnastics, an individual team sport, is a paradox. Teams compete for titles while individuals simultaneously compete for their own. In any singular meet, there are six sub-competitions going on: the team competition, the all-around competition and a competition for each of the four event titles. There is no other sport quite like it. If one of 11 soccer players or one of five basketball players makes a mistake, it may or may not impact the outcome of the game. In gymnastics, individual scores do not just impact the outcomes of a meet –– they decide them.
If there is anyone who knows all too well about the individual aspect of gymnastics, it is Cal senior Desiree Palomares. On Friday, she traveled without her teammates by her side to St. Louis to compete for the national balance beam title. The rest of the Bears missed a team berth after placing fifth at NCAA Regionals, having needed to finish in the top two.
Palomares, however, was not fazed by being on her lonesome.
“I want to make (my team) proud but it’s not in a scary pressure kind of way,” Palomares said. “I’m honored to be here.”
Her confidence was apparent Friday at Chaifetz Arena, where she put up a clean routine, capping off her senior season with a 9.80. Her execution was precise throughout the routine as usual, highlighted by a stuck gainer full dismount. She completed a back handspring to back layout stepout series with ease, along with a front aerial to straddle jump connection in which she did not miss a beat.
This type of consistent performance has become standard for Palomares, who has picked up a total of 10 beam titles during her time at Cal.
She did not earn All-American status after finishing in the middle of the pack at nationals (tied at 59th of 87), but her performance on the way to nationals left a lasting impression. Palomares can boast the first regional beam title in school history. Her score of 9.90 at the Fayetteville Regional put her in a four-way tie for first place with Utah’s Shannon McNatt, Denver’s Maddie Karr and Central Michigan’s Katy Clements and sent her to her second NCAA National Championships of her career. In 2016, the entire team qualified.
For Palomares, Friday’s performance marks the end of a long and impressive season, as well as an accomplished career. Her resume holds many firsts for the Bears, and she has played a defining role in many record-breaking Cal performances. The senior departs from the team and the sport with her name forever etched in Cal gymnastics history, and this performance was a fine sendoff.
Adriana Ghiozzi covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at