For the final time, Cal head coach Brett McClure coached the No. 10 men’s gymnastics team at the NCAA championships this past weekend in West Point, New York. After coaching the Bears for the past four seasons, McClure will move on to become the high-performance director of USA gymnastics.
Even though Cal didn’t qualify for team finals, three of the Bears went to the NCAA finals for individual events Saturday. With the championship results, Cal finished the season back in 10th place in the nation, up from 11th. This was a nice way for the team to finish, given that Cal’s rankings oscillated between No. 8 and No. 11 during the entire season.
“There were definitely some challenges and mistakes to overcome, but they fought really hard and were able to finish off the weekend with some solid performances by Aaron (Mah), Yordan (Aleksandrov) and Michael Rauchwerger in the finals,” McClure said.
Cal’s competitors over the weekend included No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Illinois, No. 5 Minnesota and No. 7 Nebraska. The Bears were evidently competing against exceptionally tough competition, as every other competitor was ranked higher than them. The Cardinal had an unusually weak performance at the championships, coming in fourth behind Ohio State and Illinois. Cal came in last and wasn’t one of the top-six teams. Even last year at the NCAAs, Cal came in second to last in the qualifier and didn’t make it into the team finals.
Sophomore Mah, junior Aleksandrov and redshirt junior Rauchwerger all qualified for finals on Saturday. Mah competed for two events in the final, namely the all-around and high bar. He ultimately placed 16th out of 17 competitors in the all-around event.
Cal had strong representation on the high bar finals, with both Mah and Aleksandrov placing in the top half of the competitors. Mah placed 18th with a 13.800, while Aleksandrov placed right behind him with a 13.750. Rauchwerger came in second to last in the floor finals out of 43 competitors.
The Bears have much to be proud of at the end of their tough season. Even after a 6-8 record, the team still qualified for the NCAAs after its strong third-place finish at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships. Aside from qualifying for the NCAAs, seven Bears were also named to the MPSF All-Academic list right before heading to West Point for the NCAAs.
Rauchwerger, Aleksandrov, seniors Nicholas Del Junco and Capri Sano, redshirt sophomore Mitchell Awisus, junior Gagik Gharibyan and sophomore Bailey Chang all received academic honors. The Bears performed well in the gym and were clearly able to simultaneously, and successfully, balance their performances in the classroom as well.
While the Bears will start next year with a new head coach and without three graduating seniors, they vastly improved their season from start to finish. Cal truly began to shine in the second half, whether it be nabbing its season’s best team total at the MPSF Championship or sending three gymnasts to the individual finals on Saturday.
With impressive talent in Mah, Rauchwerger and Aleksandrov, who are all returning next year, the team can only continue to go up from here.
Avanti Mehrotra covers men’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected]