No surprise here: Bears’ record start not enough to beat competition

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Surprise is, at the very least, memorable. It keeps us glued to our pages and our pictures. In this day and age, it keeps our eyes on our screens. For sports fans, surprise creates moments that are carried to and beyond the grave (if you believe in that sort of thing).

In the end, though, every surprise cuts both ways — there are winners and losers, elation and crushing disappointment.

Cal women’s gymnastics did not surprise at last weekend’s Collegiate Challenge. The prestigious, early season women’s gymnastics tournament used the phrase “Who will RISE?” in its promotions. The Bears did not surprise — nor did they rise or fall.

A heated evening of gymnastics competition saw No. 9 Cal end exactly where many would have predicted them to. The Bears easily dispatched their bitter rivals, No. 22 Stanford, which finished in last place by almost a full point, but could not overcome No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 4 UCLA, teams which finished first and second respectively.

Cal’s trip to Anaheim was not without its merits, its overall score of 196.200 was the best season opening score in school history. The Bears entertain a youthful team with just one senior sitting on a roster of majority underclassmen. Beginning the year on such a note could indicate big things to come in both 2020 and beyond.

The Bears fielded individual standouts. Kyana George led the way as Cal’s best all-arounder, finishing third in the session behind defending national champion Maggie Nichols and UCLA’s Kyla Ross, who won the all-around crown. George tied for the top in the vault, equaling Ross and Oklahoma’s Anastasia Webb with a 9.900.

Sophomore Maya Bordas and freshman Neveah DeSouza were the Bears’ other two all-arounders. Bordas would snatch a personal best in the vault with a 9.825 in Anaheim. DeSouza ended the challenge with the worst all-arounder score of the session, a 39.175, but still fared better than many of the gymnasts in session one, where No. 7 Denver, No. 13 Auburn, No. 21 Arizona State and No. 25 Penn State competed.

Cal began the day slowly; a 48.8 team performance in the beam condemned it to a last place start, despite a 9.900 from George. UCLA took the lead with a strong start on the bars, tallying a 49.425. The Bears bounced back with a strong performance on the floor, but the real story of the second round was Oklahoma. The Sooners’ booming 49.55 rallied them above the stumbling Bruins.

Stanford struggled down the stretch with sub 49 team scores in the vault and beam. UCLA appeared to be within Cal’s sights. After just two events, the Bruins held a slim lead, just .10 points ahead of the Bears.

But a UCLA resurgence on the floor — no Bruin scored below a 9.8 individually — would cement the meet results ahead of each team’s final event. The Bears bowed out with a 49.225 on bars, their best event of the meet. That score equaled UCLA’s performance on the vault, but both squads paled in comparison to Oklahoma, which demonstrated its No. 1 status with its fourth event score of the day above 49.

Despite her second place finish in the all-around competition, Oklahoma’s Nichols still managed to impress, scoring a 10 with one of the judges on the uneven bars. Bruin sophomore Samantha Sakti matched that, taking a 10 from a judge on the beam, but both gymnasts were overshadowed by Alexis Vasquez, the Denver sophomore who averaged a perfect 10 on the beam in session one.

The day would be one of met expectations for Cal. Despite their best season opening score in program history, the Bears placed below schools ranked above them and above schools ranked below them, a trend which stayed consistent when compared to the session one scores. The blue and gold finished below Denver but above Auburn, Arizona State and Penn State.

But a good start is better than a bad one. Cal’s event scores increased steadily as the night wore on, an indication of a young team growing more comfortable with its environment and gaining experience.

The Bears showed that while they may not quite be at the level of their national championship caliber competition, they may yet have surprises in store.

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Maggie Nichols and Samantha Sakti both scored 10 on their second run at the uneven bars. In fact, they received scores of 10 from one judge on their singular runs.
The image accompanying this article incorrectly depicted men’s gymnastics.