Can Cal women’s gymnastics think nationally at NorCal Classic?

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Success, like many things, is relative. One’s achievements depend on one’s goals. Success is ultimately reliant on what we see around us, and what we see around us may be a poor representation of what actually is.

Cal’s third place finish in its season opener could be taken as a step back. The Bears are a fringe competitor for a national championship — ranked No. 9 in the WCGA preseason poll. Against No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 4 UCLA at the Collegiate Challenge, the blue and gold came up exactly where many would have predicted: just short.

But success is relative. Cal’s third place finish set a program record for a season-opening team score, tallying 196.200 points, a mark that is good for fifth highest in the country and bests LSU’s and Georgia’s, teams ranked No. 2 and No. 8 entering the season.

The Bears will hope to sustain their hot start when they travel to the NorCal Classic, a regional meet against San Jose State, Sacramento State, rival No. 22 Stanford and host UC Davis.

While Cal’s top flight competition at the Collegiate Challenge allowed it to take away an encouraging start despite their third place finish, a trip to Davis will hold no such benefit. A positive performance isn’t just a win, it must be a decisive victory.

The Cardinal is the only top-25 team the Bears will face — the Spartans, Hornets and Aggies are all unranked — and the blue and gold cannot allow themselves to fall to the level of its competition. Focus must remain on the bigger picture.

Junior Kyana George may lead that effort. A standout at the Collegiate Challenge, her vault score tied for best in the competition and is also tied for second highest nationally. George’s all-around score is also top notch; she is fourth in the nation after her 39.55 in the season opener.

At the NorCal Classic, George will be the gymnast to beat, but past results indicate a distinct advantage for Cal. Three of the top four all-around gymnasts entering Sunday’s competition are Bears — sophomore Maya Bordas and freshman Neveah DeSouza both put in solid performances in the season opener and rank in the top 15 of all-around gymnasts.

Cal’s time at the Collegiate Challenge was not without blemishes, however. The Bears struggled in the beam competition, the only event in which the team finished with a score below 49. George was the only gymnast in blue and gold to score above a 9.800, and the Cal coaching staff will surely be focused on improving their athletes’ performance on the beam.

This is where the Bears must raise their expectations above that of their competition. That “low” beam score was better than any single event tally by the Aggies or the Hornets this season, though the teams have had only one meet against each other. To say that Stanford should be Cal’s only competition is not just accurate, it’s almost an overstatement. The Bears finished third at the Collegiate Challenge, almost a full point above the Cardinal who finished in fourth.

But the NorCal Classic has the potential to become a stumbling block for Cal. The blue and gold are fielding a young squad this season, with just six upperclassmen on the roster. A hallmark of inexperience is competing at the level of your opponent, a boon against talented programs and an absolute hindrance against weaker opposition.

After a record-setting season opener, the Bears cannot afford to take their feet off the gas. Success is relative and a victory at the NorCal Classic doesn’t necessarily mean a step forward. Cal must improve on the beams and keep its eyes on the national picture instead of the teams around them. Can this team be a national powerhouse week in and week out?

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