Perfection remains elusive as Cal reaches higher

Lisi Ludwig/Staff

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“This meet wasn’t perfect,” said Cal women’s gymnastics co-head coach Justin Howell.

His team, ranked No. 10, had just beaten No. 25 Stanford on the road for the fourth time this season, defeating the Cardinal 197.125-196.175 and also surpassing 197 for the fourth time this season. The blue and gold only had two such scores in any single season until now.

This could be a moment to celebrate that triumph. In the midst of arguably the best regular season in program history, Howell and his team could have revelled in the moment.

Instead, the focus remains on the future. This is a mindset that Howell and co-head coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell have echoed throughout the season — that the best is yet to come.

The Bears have shown improvement. For the third consecutive week, Cal bettered its vault and beam scores, bringing in season-highs in both events.

Senior Rachael Mastrangelo and junior Kyana George led the blue and gold on the vault, tying for the event crown with a 9.875. Mastrangelo equaled her career best with that mark, and all five scoring Bears surpassed 9.800, including sophomore Milan Clausi, who fought through illness to score over 9.800 on the vault for the fourth straight meet.

Howell attributed his team’s high score to a particular emphasis in practice.

“We’re landing better on vault,” Howell said of his team’s performance.

Landings have been a focus for the entire team in the last week of practice. It was considered a clear area to improve upon, with both coaches attributing specific and clear losses of points to landings, points that the blue and gold have begun to recover.

Vault wasn’t the only event in which the Bears improved, though. George also set the standard on the beam as her team tallied a season-high 49.35.

“Everyone stepped up and did their job,” Howell said. “Our entire beam team stepped up.”

George has been Cal’s standout in 2020, and the meet against Stanford was no different. She won the all-around and after sharing the vault crown, George won the balance beam with a 9.925, her season-high.

George was one of three blue and gold athletes to score above a 9.900 in that event, as freshman Nevaeh DeSouza and junior Emi Watterson tied for second with a 9.900. Watterson would win another event, though, equalling sophomore Maya Bordas’ 9.925 in the uneven bars.

Despite the marked improvements, Howell’s evaluation of his team’s need to reach higher remains valid.

The Cardinal were able to better the Bears on the floor, where they outscored the visitors 49.375-49.275. Four of the top five gymnasts in the event wore red, including Kyla Bryant, who captured a 9.95, the single-highest score at the meet. George managed second, but it was ultimately Stanford’s turn to shine.

All-arounder Bordas also struggled. Despite sharing the uneven bars crown and tying her season-high, she failed to score above 9.800 in any other event, including a season-low 9.600 on the balance beam.

Bordas’ goals could be in line with those of her team. The quest for excellence is, in a sense, the quest for the perfect storm. Cal has put up top scores throughout this season, but to reach new highs, like Bordas the entire squad must bring its top scores together in one place at one time.

Cal has shown steady upward trends on the vault and on the beam but has been more extreme on the uneven bars and the floor. The Bears’ top scores in the two former events have been their best event scores of the season, while their lows on the bars and on the floor have been their worst of 2020.

The blue and gold will try to capture those high scores when they host No. 21 Oregon State on Saturday. The Beavers have been a top-10 team on beam, but they rank lower than Cal in every single event.

The Bears will be returning to Haas Pavilion, where they have hosted two meets this season — meets that ended with their two best scores of the season.

Howell has cited the energy and atmosphere, as well as his team’s ethos of being both aggressive and having fun, as reasons for the Bears’ higher scores. Cal has set a high floor this season and will seek to raise it and shoot for perfection when it returns home.

“We’re growing every week and starting to find our rhythm,” Howell said. “We’re capable of a 198.”

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