Peaks to Valleys: Bears place second at Pac-12 Invitational

Maddie Fruman/Staff

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If you’ve ever eaten trail mix you’ve probably encountered the problem that plagues most consumers. The M&M’s? Delicious. The raisins? Exquisite. The nuts? Not so great. You might disagree with which parts of the outdoor snack are good and which parts leave much to be desired, but the point is this — trail mix is as it sounds, a mixed bag. And as such, it has highs and lows and ingredients that will not satiate one’s appetite.

For five events at Sunday’s Pac-12 Invitational, Cal men’s gymnastics (397.650), which finished second behind Stanford (406.900) and ahead of Washington (366.400) and Arizona State (389.200), was chock-full of the good stuff. The team set a school record on vault, had season bests on parallel bars and rings, while also tying their best performance of the season on pommel. It was all M&M’s all the time. But when the Bears entered their sixth rotation on high bar, their sweet performance was hit with a sour surprise.

Coming into the final rotation, the blue and gold were only one point down from No. 2 Stanford and all eyes were on No. 11 Cal to see if it could push its season-best score and demonstrate the squad’s continued improvement. But lackluster performances, including an 8.550 from Darren Wong, led to a season low 61.650 for the Bears on the high bar.

“We kind of dropped the ball there,” said Cal head coach J.T. Okada. “We got a little anxious, the end of the meet was coming up and we could sense the end. And instead of focusing on improvement there, we had a couple of routines that we were trying to just get through and that’s the wrong mindset to go into that event with.”

But while the final event may leave a poor taste in the Bears’ mouths, the meet was a success in almost every other sense.

A top-10 team in the nation on vault, the Bears continued to demonstrate their dominance in the event with a 71.100, .200 higher than the previous school record set last week. Senior Asad Jooma continued to anchor the Bears’ performance in that event with a career-high 14.600.

The only event the blue and gold regressed in was on floor, as the Bears’ 68.550 was nearly two and half points lower than their performance at the Stanford Open. But the Bears were only one point back from trumping Stanford in that event, and given the success of the other events for Cal, the blue and gold have nothing to hang their heads about.

Individually, there were several impressive performances up and down the Cal roster. Freshman Will Lavanakul led the Bears on pommel horse, scoring a career-high 13.600. Lavanakul had a poor performance two meets ago against Stanford and Air Force, but has continued to improve week to week. MPSF All-Academic gymnast Anton Vorona gave his team an added boost on rings, with a season-high 13.550. But for Coach Okada, the standout performance of the meet came from Jonathan Wang, who competed in the all-around. Wang posted a 79.350 that included season-bests on rings and parallel bars.

“I want to give a shout-out to Jonathan Wang,” Okada said. “I know he’s been working hard and he’s not satisfied when he does OK and scores OK. He wants to score well and wants to make those improvements he’s working on. He’s really stepped up to a challenge here.”

Cal’s most significant takeaway from the meet may perhaps be tying its season-best on pommel, an event that has haunted the blue and gold dating back to last season. At their previous meet, the Bears saw their performance on pommel skyrocket to a 64.050, and the team demonstrated at the Pac-12 Invitational that it was not a fluke.

“We still have room to grow in that event,” Okada said. “Our consistency factor is going up, and now it’s time to really improve that score to something better”.

Looking ahead, the Bears will be on the road next Saturday as they prepare for the ASU Invite. Cal will once again be joined by Stanford, which it has competed against at every meet this season, as well as No. 5 Ohio State and hosts No.12 Arizona State.

If the Bears want to prove they can truly compete at the top and qualify for the NCAA finals, they will have to pull out a consistent performance across the board. Mixed bags and up-and-down scores will not cut it at the top.

“We want to improve on finishing meets, making sure we don’t go into it trying to just get through it, but trying to compete as well as we can and make improvements,” Okada said.

Michael Brust is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeB_DC.