Pressure looms as Bears fly south to face Bruins

Lisi Ludwig/Staff

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The notion of progress over perfection may seem counterintuitive for a sport that places such an emphasis on obtaining a perfect 10 in competition. But according to the Cal women’s gymnastics team, perfection will be the last thing on their mind as they fly south to face UCLA on Sunday.

“I’m going to work on not thinking about being perfect,” said junior Emi Watterson, after a rough performance Sunday against Arizona. “I try to be too perfect, and it doesn’t work like that.”

It seems as though Cal gymnasts value consistency over perfection. Junior Kyana George exemplifies this consistency. Withstanding the Jan. 26 meet against Washington in which she took a fall from the uneven bars, the all-arounder has averaged above a 39.50 individual meet score. Moreover, her highest and lowest meet scores of the season — once again, omitting Jan. 26 — are separated by only .15 points.

This matters because George is expected back on the competition floor this weekend after a Feb. 22 injury which forced her out of Sunday’s competition against Arizona. Cal fans await to find out if her absence has thrown her off of her rhythm, or left her hungry to accomplish more.

If she is healthy enough to compete in every event on Sunday, the No. 1 all-arounder title might be hers to grab. While UCLA senior Kyla Ross has higher overall individual scores than George, Ross has not consistently been competing as an all-arounder this season.

UCLA senior Felicia Hano may also be in contention for the No. 1 all-arounder on Sunday, depending on whether or not Ross competes in all four events. Hano triumphed twice in recent weeks and her highest all-around score this season is 39.45. She has shown inconsistencies, however. Two out of her four meets performing as an all-arounder have resulted in lower event scores: a 9.525 on beam on Feb. 15 and a 9.25 on bars on Feb. 23.

If Hano slips up, the No.1 all-arounder spot could also belong to sophomore Maya Bordas if she performs as well against the Bruins as she did on Feb. 22 against the Beavers.

Yet another unknown is sophomore Talitha Jones’ injury status. Jones, who typically performs on beam, injured her knee during the vault warmup before the Sunday meet had even begun. She was pulled out of the lineup, and it is unclear whether or not she will be competing in Pauley Pavilion on Sunday.

Nevertheless, Cal has a deep team that is constantly seeking improvements. Sunday’s meet should be another opportunity for the Bears to notch season or career highs, especially after the stress of their most recent meet.

“We try to make small improvements. We don’t try to be perfect,” said Cal co-head coach Justin Howell. “That’s when you get into trouble.”

While the Bears shy away from perfection, the Bruins flirt with it regularly. This season, UCLA has scored a 10 in every event, except for vault. The Bruins are known for their floor routines, an event in which they hold the No. 1 national ranking. Not to mention, they are ranked No. 3  overall, a spot that Bruins coach Chris Waller expects his team to hold for the duration of their season.

The last several meets, No. 9 Cal has faced teams ranked beneath them, and the Bears  have walked away with wins. But on Sunday, barring an extraordinary event, the blue and gold might not return home with a victory. And yet, Cal’s focus will remain constant.

“It doesn’t matter if everything is going wrong or everything is going right. Your job doesn’t change. Your task doesn’t change,” Howell said. “The things that you should be focusing on don’t change.”

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