Cal women’s gymnastics faces No. 25 Stanford on Sunday for the third time in 2020. For reference, this will be the Bears’ third meet of the season, so calling the opponents familiar would be a bit of an understatement.
Calling No. 18 Cal the favorite, however, feels a bit more even-handed. Twice the Bears have faced their bitter rivals, and twice they have defeated them. It’s been a sobering two weeks for the Cardinal, who have not been able to find the answers nor the points to defeat the blue and gold.
In both the Collegiate Challenge and the subsequent NorCal Classic, Stanford took early leads over Cal only to see them slip away. This time around, the Cardinal will attempt to hold onto any early advantage, though those leads were largely due to slow starts from the Bears.
At the Collegiate Challenge, the blue and gold opened their season on the balance beam, where they posted their lowest score of the meet before recovering and rattling off scores of above 49 on the uneven bars, floor and vaults. At the NorCal Classic, Cal’s opening performance on the floor saw the team’s worst single event score of the season, a 47.85.
Despite the parallel struggles, co-head coach Justin Howell didn’t see any correlation between his squad’s opening events.
“I don’t necessarily think that it’s a pattern. I think, at the Collegiate Challenge, it’s the first meet of the season,” Howell said. “You’re out in that environment and some of these judges are handing down judgments for the first time since last year, and of course we’re on the equipment for the first time.”
At the NorCal Classic, the Bears’ roster was bone-thin because of early season injuries and an illness which had plagued their lineup the week prior.
“We were headed into this meet with a five-person lineup. Typically you put up six people on an event and you get to drop your lowest score,” Howell said. “Floor started off a little bit rough for us.”
After taking a week to recover, the Bears can bounce back in a big way. But bounce back they must: Stanford has been right behind Cal at both meets, and one cannot imagine the Cardinal will pass up another opportunity to upset their rivals.
The meet would not be the only thing Cal stands to lose. The blue and gold turned a slow start at the NorCal Classic into a victory, but their final score still dropped the Bears from No. 5 to No. 18 overall.
Cal has the opportunity to move on from its low score at the NorCal Classic, but it cannot afford to repeat those mistakes against Stanford if it wants to take full advantage of National Qualifying Scores.
The NQS will come to play in week seven, when teams take their top six scores, drop their best one and average their next five to determine their ranking position.
“What we want to do now is boost up our scores every single weekend so we put ourselves in a good position to drop this score once we hit week seven,” Howell said.
Co-head coaches Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell will turn to junior Kyana George to lead that effort. George was named Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week after winning three events at the NorCal Classic. The junior from McKinney, Texas is the No. 10 all-arounder in the nation and has performed well even when the rest of her team has stumbled.
The Bears’ biggest challenge will come from all-arounder Chloe Widner. Widner, a freshman, is the No. 25 all-arounder in the nation and has been the Cardinal’s stand out thus far.
But unless Widner and the rest of the Stanford roster are especially surprising at Haas Pavilion on Sunday, this is Cal’s meet to lose. The Cardinal may hold a slight advantage on the floor, as their season-high eclipses the Bears’, but the blue and gold can and have outscored their rivals in every other event.
Cal’s only weakness outside of slow starts has been the balance beam, the only event the team has yet to score above 49 in. Weakness is relative, however —Stanford has only scored two 49s all season.
The Cardinal enters Haas Pavilion on Sunday at 4 p.m. seeking an upset and to avoid a third consecutive loss. The Bears will welcome their rivals to their home opener with nothing less than victory on their minds. The event will be live on the Pac-12 Network.
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen is the sports editor. Contact him at