Zoe Draghi propels Cal women’s gymnastics to victory against Arizona, helps record second-best team score in program history

Michael Wan/Staff

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Zoe Draghi knew the moment she finished her floor routine that the cat was in the bag. Or in this case, the Wildcat.

The junior’s 9.90 floor performance prompted an emotional outcry from the entire No. 19 Cal women’s gymnastics team, running toward her to celebrate a historic night. This sight put a smile on the face of the home fans at Haas Pavilion — the perfect ending to a near-perfect night for the Bears.

This was a night in which Cal set three season-high event totals on the way to its second-best team score in school history, 196.825, outscoring Arizona’s 196.000.

“It felt really good at the end of the match, it was the first time I anchored all year so it was a really good feeling to have the entire team get behind my routine,” Draghi said.

The Bears set a strong tone early on by opening up the meet with the second-highest vault score this season, a 49.200. If the first event was any indication of how the rest of the meet would go then one thing was clear: it was going to be a night of season-highs and career-highs.

Junior Desiree Palomares got the team off to a strong start by scoring a season-high vault total of 9.80. The best vault performance for the Bears, however, came from freshman Sylvie Seilnacht, who took the event title with a career-high 9.90.

The event was finished up by defending Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week, sophomore Toni-Ann Williams, who closed out Cal’s first event by tying her season high on vault with a 9.875.

The Bears then headed to the uneven bars for their second event of the night, where they carried over the strong gymnastics from the first event. Junior Amber Takara and Williams kept the pressure on Arizona, tying season-high scores with a 9.85. Sophomore Alicia Gallarzo set a new career high-bars score of 9.825, fueling the Bears to a new season-high bars score of 49.150.

The third event of beam only marked the continuation of Cal’s dominance that night, once again finishing with a new team-high score of 49.125. Junior Jessica Howe finished at the top of the pack, taking the event title with a season-high score of 9.875.

Cal entered its final event with plenty of confidence, knowing that it entered the night as the 8th ranked floor squad in the nation. So everyone in Haas Pavilion was in complete shock when a rare fall from Palomares suddenly put the Wildcats, who were now on beam, back into contention.

And things got even more troubling for the Bears when a sudden lineup mistake pushed Williams up a spot and put Draghi in the unfamiliar anchor seat.

Draghi now had to enter her floor routine aware that another fall for the Bears would only result in Arizona pulling off the shocking comeback.

Every single pair of eyeballs was now fixed on Draghi, but she was able to show her resolve by not allowing the pressure to get to her, even when she had all the excuses in the world.

“We knew we would come out with a win if (Draghi)  hit her routine, and she did, so that was the emotion everyone was feeling at that moment,” said Cal head coach Justin Howell. “It feels great to know that our hard work is paying off, and that the girls are starting to be confident and own the gymnastics that they’re doing.”

Contact Alex Quintana at [email protected]