Bears turn day around to secure victory against Wildcats

Photo of Maya Bordas of Cal Women's Gymnastics
Lisi Ludwig/File

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We’ve all had a morning that has not gone according to plan. You wake up and realize that your phone is at 5% battery because it actually wasn’t plugged in during the night. Then you spill coffee all over yourself, causing you to miss the bus by mere seconds. So you show up extremely late to your 8 a.m. class, only to find all of your peers turning in the pop quiz you just missed.

A day like this typically ends with you sobbing in bed, eating an entire box of Girl Scout cookies as you finish another season of BoJack Horseman on Netflix.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. On Sunday, during its meet against Arizona, the Cal women’s gymnastics team proved that not all things that start poorly must end poorly too.

The No. 9 Bears pulled off a 196.4-196.275 win against the No. 24 Wildcats with a surprisingly slim margin separating the two teams.

Trouble started for Cal before the meet had even begun.

Sophomore Talitha Jones sustained a knee injury during the vault warmup, forcing her out of the lineup. Junior Kyana George, one of the highest performing Cal gymnasts, who was injured during the Feb. 22 meet, also sat out during the competition wearing a boot.

“We expect her back next week. We’re just protecting her,” said Cal co-head coach Justin Howell of George’s injury.

These two injuries allowed for a few gymnasts to have debuts on the mat. Cal junior Nina Schank won the all-around Sunday and competed on beam for the first time in her collegiate career. Sophomore Grace Quinn, who has predominantly been competing only on floor this season, also had the opportunity to perform in every event.

The Bears earned a 49.475 overall score on vault, matching their season-high from the Feb. 22 meet against Oregon State, as both Milan Clausi and Rachael Mastrangelo scored 9.95.

But those good performances were quickly overshadowed by a disheartening performance on the uneven bars.

Freshman Nevaeh DeSouza started out the bar event for Cal scoring a 9.775 — her second-lowest bar score of the season — and things declined from there for the blue and gold.

Second in the bars lineup, freshman Maya Green took a devastating fall during her performance, earning a score of 8.90.

Schank was able to give the Bears a glimmer of hope, earning a 9.9, her best bar score out of the last four meets, but Cal’s bad day had not turned around yet. Fourth in the bars lineup, Emi Watterson faltered and also ended up dropping from the bar during her routine. She walked off the mat with a 9.275.

“If someone in front of you on bars has a fall, there’s a natural tendency to get rattled. If that’s the place that you’re going to go to, you’re going to make a mistake,” Howell said.

The Bears earned a team score on bars of 48.65, the lowest score of their season.

Across the competition floor, Arizona earned a season-high cumulative score on vault. Gymnast Maddi Leydin astonished fans with a near perfect score of 9.975, a career high for the senior athlete which earned her the No. 1 vault score of the day.

As Cal transitioned to the beam event with only a .15 lead on Arizona, the Bears’ anxiety was palpable.

This anxiety came to its crux during Maya Bordas’ turn on the beam. The sophomore teetered on a landing and tried to hang on, but ended up falling from the beam. She quickly pulled herself back up to finish her routine, but finished with a score of 9.175.

After the third fall of the day, it was the Bears’ focus and mental fortitude that enabled them to turn things around. That reversal of fortune began with Schank, who wrapped up the event with the first beam performance of her career and turned out a 9.85.

“We’ve trained so hard, so we know we can just trust ourselves no matter what happens,” Schank said.

That newfound confidence was apparent throughout the rest of the meet, as the Bears finished out with high energy floor routines, earning a team score of 49.375.

Quinn’s performance on the floor exemplified the Bears’ comeback. The sophomore’s first meet competing as an all-arounder ended with a floor career high of 9.875, eliciting a massive display of enthusiasm from her teammates. For the blue and gold, Quinn’s performance must have felt like taking a deep breath at the end of a very long day.

This was a learning opportunity for the Bears — a chance to perform under unexpectedly stressful circumstances. The gymnasts supported each other through both the highs and the lows of the meet, showcasing their unshakable comradery.

“We needed a test like this to know how capable we really are,” Howell said.

Across the competition floor, the Wildcats performed well  — and although Sunday brought them their highest team score of the season, Arizona on its best day was still no match for Cal.

Sarah Siegel covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].