No. 16 Cal women’s gymnastics opens Pac-12 championships as session favorites

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The No. 16 Cal women’s gymnastics may not have gotten the top seed it was looking for, but it has earned something close to it in the Pac-12 Women’s Gymnastics Championships this weekend.

The Pac-12 Championships is broken up into two sessions of competition: one in the afternoon and one in the evening. Seeded No. 5 overall, the Bears will lead the afternoon session of the meet, taking on 6-8 seeds Arizona, Stanford and Arizona State, respectively. Because of a newly instated rule from the Pac-12, the Bears, as the top seed in their session, were able to select the event on which they wanted to begin. Following familiar convention from home meets, they opted to begin on the vault. So while they weren’t exactly close to No. 1, they will reap the same benefits as No. 1 seed UCLA.

As the only top-25 team in their session, the Bears emerge as clear favorites among these opponents. Later in the evening, No. 1 through No. 4 seeds UCLA, Utah, Oregon State and Washington, respectively, will compete against one another. All teams, however, are eligible for the same awards.

The story of Cal’s 2017 season up to this point has had one recurring theme: injuries, injuries and more injuries. The biggest blow was losing junior and former Olympian Toni-Ann Williams to an Achilles tendon tear just four meets into the season. About the same time, freshmen duo Cassidy Keelen and Alexandra Dudschus was sidelined for the season. Next went senior Dana Ho, who tore her ACL for the second time in her college career, and then it was sophomore Sylvie Seilnacht with a foot injury. All that, on top of consistent back issues for senior Jessica Howe that kept her out for most of the season, has forced the Bears to dig deeper into their roster than they thought possible.

But in dealing with all of those injuries, Cal has demonstrated its exceptional depth. Nearly every person on Cal’s 20-person roster has competed in at least one meet this year. Despite some of their gymnasts having to compete on events they had never done before and the loss of their only all-around competitor in Williams, the Bears still managed to pull off an upset against then-No. 12 Oregon State. They kept it close against top-five nationally ranked teams such as Utah and UCLA. Their only loss by more than a point came against defending national champion Oklahoma.

All things considered, the Bears performed a small miracle in earning the five seed this year.

At Saturday’s meet, however, the judges will not be curving their scores against injuries, so the Bears will have to bring their best. On beam and vault, bringing their best will simply mean showing the same consistency that they have all year long. In its last two meets, Cal has matched the second-best beam score in school history, a 49.325. As for floor, the ambiguity lies in who will perform, not how they will perform. Last week against Oklahoma, sophomore Sofie Seilnacht was in the floor lineup for the first time this season but had an unfortunate fall. Finally, on bars — their weakest event — the Bears will need to avoid the score-busting falls that have plagued them throughout the season.

So while it may only be for bragging rights, a solid showing at the Pac-12 Championships could provide confidence for Cal. And with regionals just more than two weeks away, a little confidence certainly couldn’t hurt.

Adriana Ghiozzi covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].