The greatest achievements of mankind were not built in a day. It took the Romans eight years to build their infamous Colosseum. It took Australia 14 years to construct the Sydney Opera House. It took the Greeks 15 years to create the Parthenon. It takes time to build things from the ground up.
No one knows that lesson better than Cal men’s gymnastics as their season debut was a lopsided loss to their rivals No. 2 ranked (and defending national champion) Stanford — 382.850 to 407.300. The Bears’ team performance was the worst score Cal has had in an official meet in the last three seasons.
Freshmen Aidan Giusti, Will Lavanakul, Kyle Shuttle and Noah Sano debuted for the blue and gold at the Cal Benefit Cup, alongside sophomore Liam Doherty-Herwitz, who did not compete last season due to injury. Sano was by far and away the biggest standout among the young Bears squad, as his 12.300 score on the pommel horse and his 13.300 score on the parallel bars were Cal’s second and first best performances in those events.
The most disappointing performance came from Darren Wong, the two-time NCAA rookie of the week and Cal’s brightest young star. The 5’4” sophomore breakout was one of only two Bears to make it to the 2019 NCAA all-around finals, but his performance against Stanford left much to be desired.
His 12.700 score on the high bar, while a marked improvement from his score at nationals, was still only the third-best on the team and lower than almost all Cardinal gymnasts. But where Wong really struggled was on pommel and rings, where he scored 12.800 and 12.400 individually. Both scores were far below his capabilities — and after an impressive rookie season, are sure to be a disappointment for a Cal squad that lacks the firepower needed to compete at the highest level.
Even if all of the Bears had put out impressive performances and scored career highs, it would still probably not have been enough to overcome the Goliath that is Stanford gymnastics. The Cardinal outscored the blue and gold in every event, including a very impressive performance on vault in which every Stanford gymnast scored a 14.200 or higher. To put that into context, Cal’s highest scoring vaulter was senior Asad Jooma, who posted a 14.000, which was also the blue and gold’s highest score of the night in any event.
To make matters worse for the Bears, the Cardinal didn’t even need their MPSF Gymnast of the Year Brody Malone, as freshman Brandon Briones dominated the event with an all-around score of 82.400 to Malone’s 78.850. Briones rocked UC Berkeley’s Recreational Sports Facility, with a 13.750 on the floor and a staggering 14.750 on vault — both meet highs.
While Cal’s young core shows glimmers of hope, Stanford’s youth dwarfs them by comparison. In addition to Briones and Malone, Cardinal underclassmen such as Curran Phillips, Christopher Osgood and Riley Loos all put in impressive season debuts that showcased the top to bottom talent of the Stanford roster. The Bears never stood a chance to defeat the Cardinal monolith, but in fairness, there might not be a team in the nation that could consistently outcompete Stanford.
Ultimately, the Cal Benefit Cup was a disappointing start for a team that lacks experience and talent depth. Unlike the Cardinal, the Bears do not have the luxury of starting their team rebuild with the best recruits and top-ranked gymnasts.
Stanford’s team construction is like the Sistine Chapel, needing only finishing touches on a ceiling fresco to make their squad truly great. But Cal is much more comparable to the Great Wall of China, a project nagged by setbacks and inconsistency. Bears’ fans can only hope that, unlike their team’s architectural counterpart, this roster will take faster than 1,800 years to come together.