No. 21 Cal women’s gymnastics to face No. 4 UCLA in home opener

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A season ago, the Cal women’s gymnastics team opened its home debut by taking first place in a quad-meet victory against Denver, San Jose State and Arizona State.

But this season, No. 21 Cal is welcoming an even tougher opponent to Haas Pavilion for its home opener, No. 4 UCLA. The Bears know that they have an uphill battle to fight Monday, a battle that they’ve only won once in the last two decades.

Cal head coach Justin Howell is hoping that a full week of tough practice can give his team the edge for pulling off what would be one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.

“What we need to tighten up for this meet is handling different environments,” Howell said. “So in the gym, we’ve been working on creating different scenarios that might make them a little more nervous and trying to put different types of pressure on them when they have to hit routines.”

But the recent history of UCLA’s dominance in women’s gymnastics doesn’t bode well for the Bears. And this dominant history has has only continued to repeat itself this season. The Bruins will enter Haas Pavilion with only one loss on the year to No. 1 Florida.

The Bears will need to carry over their strong performance from the previous weekend, in which they placed second ahead of SJSU and behind now-No.12 Stanford, posting a season-high score of 195.65. This included season-high team scores on three separate events: 49.125 on vault,  48.825 on beam and 49.175 on floor.

Cal knows, however, that it will need to post even better all-around scores Monday if it wants any chance of tasting victory.

Sophomore Toni-Ann Williams will look to lead the charge for the Bears at home. Williams first made a name for herself as a freshman by putting on record breaking performances at Haas Pavilion, resulting in her being named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. She followed all of this up by competing in the World Championships in October, and is seeking to become the first Jamaican gymnast to compete in the upcoming Olympics in Rio.

Luckily for the Bears she’s continued her dominance into 2016, and is looking to showcase her new set of skills. This new set of skills includes a double front dismount on beam, a move so rare that she’s currently the only gymnast in the entire NCAA attempting it.

And there’s no doubt that all of this hard work has paid off, this was highlighted by her performance last week when she led the team with an all-around score of 38.800.

Her best individual event of the day came on floor, taking the event title with a 9.925.

Cal will need even more Bears to step up though if it wants any shot of pulling off the upset. Junior Zoe Draghi proved last week that this is definitely possible, when she surprised everyone by scoring a career-high score of 9.90 on floor.

“We’re super excited to be competing in Haas again, UCLA is one of the top teams in the country so it’s going to be a great competition with a lot of high level athletes,” Howell said.

Contact Alex Quintana at [email protected]