One point makes a big difference in men’s gymnastics – but so does one year. Perhaps the No. 8 Cal men’s gymnastics team can use this to their advantage Monday, when they face No. 11 Iowa, a team they lost to in Jan. 2016 425.850 to 426.950. Iowa, however, has since had a year of practice and competition experience as well.
Starting the season off with some tough losses, the Bears will be looking to to stabilize themselves and get their 2nd win of the season, with home-court advantage on their side. Both the Bears and the Hawkeyes have had a considerable gap in time from their last meet, giving each team ample time to work on their performances. Iowa last competed Jan. 22 against No. 17 University of Illinois at Chicago, crushing its competition 404.100 to 374.300. The Bears also recently had a strong performance Jan. 28, sweeping the SC United Open with a score of 407.300 and beating out No. 18 Temple, No. 14 Arizona State and club team SC United along the way.
So what exactly does it take, then, for Cal to get another win? Ideally, a combination of execution and consistency can get the team to where it wants to be. Even with a concrete win under its belt, the Bears lost the vault and pommel horse events at the SC United Open. Their strong suits, however, were in the floor exercise, still rings, bars and all-around events.
The Bears will rely on their strongest players, namely juniors Yordan Aleksandrov and Gagik Gharibyan, and sophomore Aaron Mah, to lead the team in the various events. Aleksandrov and Mah have each competed in different all-around events this season, with Mah most recently recording his season best in the event with a score of 81.800. Gagik and Aleksandrov performed exceptionally well on the high bar, earning 14.650 apiece at the Open. Cal is currently ranked 4th in the nation on high bars and 10th on the parallel bars, while Iowa is ranked 10th and 7th, respectively.
The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, won every single one of their events against UIC. Above and beyond their strong performance, they broke numerous season bests – 29 to be exact. Standout gymnasts were juniors Dylan Ellsworth and Austin Hodges and senior Mark Springett, as the three of them helped their team win with their respective scores in each event. In Dec. 2016, Ellsworth and Hodges were named part of the 2017 Big Ten Men’s Gymnasts to Watch list.
Cal looks forward to writing a new ending to a nail-biting story, one that pits two longtime rival teams that are three rankings apart against each other. Revenge is sweet, but so is victory. If the Bears remain focused and determined, and continue off of their momentum from the Open, they have a good shot at earning another win. If not, Iowa, who is also looking for its 2nd win of the season, will be right behind the Bears, waiting to repeat last year’s victory one more time.
Avanti Mehrotra covers men’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected]