On Sunday, Jan. 12, Cal women’s gymnastics entered the NorCal Classic with an injury-stricken floor roster and needing all five of its gymnasts to perform. There was no room for error, but the pressure got to the Bears, who posted their worst floor score of the season.
During last Sunday’s trip to Washington, the blue and gold were faced with a similar scenario after junior Kyana George, who has been one of Cal’s top performers, fell during her run on the uneven bars.
“She went over on her first cast handstand and just trying to be aggressive,” said co-head coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell. “Casting the handstand is where perfection is. We’re all trying to not go the safe route … but to go for perfection and get after it, and that’s what she did, it just took her over the bar.”
George stepped out and the remaining Bears roster was faced with the same scenario that had plagued them at the NorCal Classic. They could only drop one score from the event, so George’s fall meant that the only option from then on was to succeed. The pressure returned.
This time, though, the blue and gold were not phased. Co-coaches Crandall-Howell and Justin Howell have focused on staying task-oriented and being aggressive and unafraid, even when caution seems to be an easy way out. The Bears channeled that philosophy and rose to the challenge.
“They were total champions, everybody stepped up, they blew it off like it was nothing, and we still scored one of our highest bar scores this year,” said Crandall-Howell.
Cal ultimately lost the meet, a hard fought affair in which the GymDawgs edged out the visiting Bears 197.225-197.075 after a phenomenal performance on floor. Both teams scored above 49.10 in all four events, a sign of the quality on display. It was, truly, a battle to behold.
The head-to-head result was not the focus of the meet, however.
“We’ve never hit 197 in the month of January. To do it two weeks in a row, one of them being away, feels really good,” said Crandall-Howell. “Regardless of being inched out at the end, we definitely walked out of there feeling like we accomplished a lot.”
Cal showed resilience when faced with adversity. Nina Schank, Emi Watterson and Maya Bordas each put up 9.925 on the uneven bars after George’s fall. George herself bounced back and put up a career-best in the vault, an event that she won.
Milan Clausi also put on an impressive performance. The sophomore tied for the floor routine crown and tallied a new career-best, stepping up when her team needed her to.
Those performances matter because the result matters. After seven weeks, national qualifying score, or NQS, will replace pure average as the determining factor for rankings. NQS is made up of averages of a team’s best performances, three of which must be from road competition.
On Sunday, the blue and gold put up its second-best score of the season and did so away from home. It is a performance the Bears will be eager to repeat when they head to Arizona State this weekend.
“Every time we’re heading out to an away meet, it’s another opportunity to show that we don’t have to be at home, that we don’t have to be in our nice, comfortable place to perform gymnastics,” said Crandall-Howell.
The Sun Devils do not present the same type of competition as Washington. Arizona State has yet to score above 196 as a team and is ranked outside the top 30 in the nation in every single event. For the blue and gold, the focus will remain on staying aggressive and besting their own scores, not those of their opponents in Tempe.
“We’re not asking them to be perfect, we’re just asking them to be aggressive and to celebrate the things they do well,” said Crandall-Howell. “When they do that, they end up doing their best.”