Back on top: Cal women’s gymnastics beats Stanford behind banner bars performance

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Two weeks ago, at the Northern California Classic, an injury-riddled Cal edged out Stanford in a tense, comeback victory by tallying 194.95, a season-low. After an awful performance on floor in which the Bears scored a lowly 47.85 — their only sub-48 event score this season — head coaches Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell could have put the pedal to the metal in practice and pushed their team to the limit to fix their mistakes.

Instead, they stepped back and let the hits play.

“The one thing we did this week was actually a lot of recovery,” Howell said. “You might think we went back, and we’re going to do 8 million floor routines and really try to polish that up, but we have confidence in them and we know they can hit when they feel good.”

And Cal did indeed feel good. After a week of measured rest, the Bears exploded out of the gates. In Saturday’s rematch, the Cardinal entered Haas Pavilion ready to dance, posting a season-high 195.55. None of that mattered, though, as No. 10 Cal bounced back, climbing up the rankings with its best performance of the season, a 197.325.

There was no stopping the Bears, who had scores over 49 in all four events for the first time this season. Cal’s home opener turned into a litany of broken records, but it was the team’s performance on the uneven bars that really shook up Haas Pavilion.

“Bars, as a team, was just an amazing moment,” said all-arounder Kyana George.

George finished in fourth on the bars, and all six blue and gold gymnasts finished in the top six. No Cardinal would finish above a Bear in the uneven bars. Emi Watterson, Nina Schank and Maya Bordas, who finished in first, second and third respectively, all brought in career-highs in the event. Watterson received a perfect 10 from one judge en route to a 9.975. Cal ultimately tied the school record in the event with a 49.575, a score that also matches No. 1 Oklahoma for best in the nation in the uneven bars.

“This is where we should be,” Howell said. “I believe we’re capable of this all the time and we should be one of the top teams on bars.”

The Bears were dominant across the meet as well, winning every single event. George took home three crowns for the second week in a row, this time in vault, all-around and floor — where she scored a career-high 9.95.

“Personally, for me, floor was just amazing because it was just a part of me that I get to show the world, and it was just nice to finally beat my record,” George said.

Watterson would complement her first-place finish on the uneven bars by tying with Bordas and Nevaeh DeSouza on the beam. Bordas and DeSouza would finish second and third in all-around, respectively. Cal’s dominance in all-around saw Bordas climb to No. 13 in the nation, George move to No. 7 and DeSouza put herself just outside the top 25 of all-arounders.

The Bears’ victory was not perfect. Howell pointed out the need for stamina when his team hit its floor routines. No performance is flawless — there are always ways to improve.

“When you compete at home, floor is always the last event,” Howell said. “So not only are you physically tired, but you’re mentally tired because of all the energy and excitement that drains you.”

Cal’s first meet in Haas Pavilion was, however, an unquestionable victory. The blue and gold vaulted from No. 18 to No. 10. After a less than ideal showing at the NorCal Classic, the Bears have put themselves back into the national conversation.

“This is what they’re capable of,” Howell said. “This is what we know they’re capable of, and I think it’s a great reminder to them, and I think we can build off of this.”

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