Given the turbulent last few months, many people may not have anticipated sports coming back this semester. A silver lining in the sea of uncertainties, however, is that they have returned. Though in the case of men’s gymnastics, the sport has taken a different form: virtual competitions.
Even as a rookie to this new format, No. 11 Cal opened the season with a win against Arizona State in a virtual meet Saturday. The Bears led the Sun Devils by 3.900 points, dominating in five out of six events.
Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, the meet was streamed through the online service Virtius from each team’s respective gym. Despite the technical concerns and a lack of in-person excitement in the stadium, the new online format may have helped some viewers by presenting performances and scores side by side. In addition, although athletes were not familiar with the format, adapting to the online setting came somewhat easier than expected and brought added benefits.
“One of the biggest differences with competing virtually is the noise during the competition,” said team captain Caleb Rickard. “But the small audience also helped with nerves.”
Pommel horse has previously been a headache for the Bears, but with a focused training regimen and recruiting efforts that specifically targeted specialists for the event, Cal was able to keep the lead in that event. The team posted marks of 13.050 and 13.500 from true freshmen Noah Newfeld and Aidan Li, respectively.
The blue and gold started off strong in the first few events but performed best on vault, the fourth event of the night. Avoiding too many large deductions, Cal showed its hallmark stable performances while maintaining an average score between 12 and 13. Juniors Yu-Chen Lee and Rickard pulled high scores as well: While Lee garnered consecutive 13s, Rickard surpassed his career high on vault with a score of 14.350.
ASU also displayed a stellar performance on vault. While the event is one of the Bears’ strengths, the Sun Devils showed off an equally competitive edge. The momentum of multiple perfect landings earned Vincent Colosimo a 14.500 and Kiwan Watts a 14.600, the two highest scores of the meet.
“(Saturday’s) performance was exactly what I expected from our team,” said Cal head coach J.T. Okada in an email. “I was especially impressed with Noah Newfeld as a freshman competing in five events and doing them all well.”
Despite the meet being held early on to open the season, some young talents already seem to be blooming. Newfeld, especially, established his place in the rotation by posting high marks consecutively: The freshman placed in still rings, pommel horse and parallel bars. Even with the virtual format, Newfeld could feel the excitement and buzz of the collegiate team in the gym.
“I loved getting hype with a big team that I knew had my back,” Newfeld said in an email. “Even though my first meet was different due to the pandemic, I am still grateful to have the opportunity to compete even like this.”
Other Bears also met the moment — even if it was virtual. Lee delivered solid performances in his floor routine and on still rings. Junior Kyle Abe, the team’s only all-arounder for this meet, posted personal bests in three out of six events and led Cal with 75.250 points overall.
With injuries opening up roster spots for many freshmen, a real silver lining in the sea of clouds may be not just the new virtual format but also the new faces on the team. Adapting to the new format and tapping into the full potential of the team’s new talents will be key for the blue and gold this year.
It was a solid start to an unprecedented season for the Bears, who will get a chance to do it all again Saturday when they take on Army in another virtual meet.