Bears look to put out Flames in Saturday meet

Michael Tao/File
Matthew Del Junco will be one of the few older team members leading the Bears next year

After five weeks of hibernation, the Bears are ready to come roaring back.

The No. 8 Cal’s men’s gymnastics team is set to face off against No. 13 University of Illinois, Chicago in the RSF Field House this Saturday at 7 p.m.

It will be the team’s first meet since Feb. 18, when the Bears narrowly upset No. 4 Stanford, 344.900-343.600. The 1.300 point difference was Cal’s smallest margin of victory this season, having previously beaten Stanford by 5.700 and 6.100 points.

The five weeks of rest were not unwelcome. The Bears have been suffering from injuries lately and crucially needed this recovery period. Senior Glen Ishino, a U.S. men’s national team member, has been limited to only one event, the pommel horse. Even in his last performance, the effects of his back injury were obvious: He surprisingly placed fourth in an event in which he is ranked No. 6 in the nation.

Donathan Bailey, the team’s captain, has also suffered through injuries. Despite this, he was able to compete in all six events in the last meet. With the long break and the MPSF Championships on the horizon though, Bailey and Ishino’s participation should still be limited.

“I think our health is pretty good,” Bailey said. “Obviously in gymnastics no one ever feels perfect, but we’ve had a nice long break and I think our outlook is pretty good.”

Even with their reduced involvement, the Bears should go into the match expecting to win. They’re coming fresh off a five-week rest, while UIC has been in and out of matches consistently since January. Its last match, just on Saturday, was a difficult loss against No. 7 Michigan. If anything, the Flames have been cold, having dropped all eight of their meets this season.

Nevertheless, Cal should be aware of how dangerous the Flames can be. UIC hopes to heat up for the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships and has the tools to do it. Dan Zerbel is the fifth-ranked player for individual events overall, with the same ranking on floor exercise. No. 7 Lukasz Adamczyk closely follows No. 6 Ishino in the pommel horse rankings.

Though this match is important for every Cal gymnast, the MPSF Championships are the ultimate goal. And in order to be fully competitive for that, the Bears will have to be running at full health. Adding in momentum from a win wouldn’t hurt, either.

Ultimately, the onus to perform will be on the team as a whole. Considering the fact that it’s Senior Night too, the pressure to win at home will be huge. Despite all of this, Bailey expects the Bears to keep their cool against the Flames.

“Obviously for (the seniors), it’s important and nostalgic since it’s their last competition at Cal,” Bailey said. “But at the same time, they understand that it’s another competition and they have to do their job. So I do think that the crowd will help motivation, but making them nervous, I don’t think so.”