The falling leaf: No. 7 Cal readies for match with Stanford

Photo of Cal Men's Gymnastics
David McAllister/Staff

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Starting the season with two consecutive wins, Cal is ready to square off with Stanford on Saturday. When the 2020 season ended prematurely, the Cardinal sat atop the national rankings, so a victory by the Bears would be a major statement. This Saturday will be another meet held virtually through Virtius, and fans will not be allowed to attend in person.

Over the course of three virtual Cal meets, the streaming service Virtius has integrated some new features, such as showing colored marks when season- or career-highs are hit. Along with the service, Cal has been showing gradual improvements this season, with both returning talents and new ones hitting high marks each meet.

In last week’s match against Army, Cal prevailed by 9.05 points, raising its national rank to No. 7. One of the notables was freshman Noah Newfeld, who competed all-around for the first time in his career during his second collegiate competition. With his victory in the all-around category and 13s in multiple events, he was a key contributor to the team’s win.

The Bears’ performance in their last meet heralded even more good news: Junior Yu-Chen Lee was named the MPSF Gymnast of the Week for the first time in his career. Turning in two team-best performances, Lee scored 13.25 on the parallel bars and 13.5 on the floor.

“I was really excited when I first heard the news, because it has been one of my goals since my freshman year,” Lee said. “This recognition just provided me more motivation to work harder in the gym.”

While Cal is climbing the stairs of improvement, the team’s next step may be more slippery than the last two. This week, the blue and gold will be competing against neighboring Stanford, a perennial contender for the national championship.

With that being said, the Cardinal does not seem to be in the best position, given the teams’ loss against William and Mary on Wednesday. Despite stellar performances by a few individuals, the team’s small roster of five gymnasts is creating obstacles for the defending champion.

In the season opener, the Cardinal’s limited roster became fatal when senior Andrew Bitner, who could no longer perform after his floor routine, withdrew from the meet. With only four competitors left on the roster, Cardinal was only able to score 306.65, 73.3 points behind the Tribe.

Due to the opt-outs by nine outstanding gymnasts, including three-time NCAA National Champion junior Brody Malone, the team may not be as formidable as it has been in recent history.

Recruits and the few gymnasts who are returning will look to fill the void left by those nine who opted out. Expected to lead the team are sophomore Brandon Briones, last year’s College Gymnastics Association Rookie of the Year, and junior Ian Gunther, five-time NCAA All-American. With the second-ranked 2020 recruiting class — including top-ranked recruit Colt Walker — the team will likely return to form before long.

No matter how Stanford’s roster looks this weekend, Cal will be prepared to do battle and continue its upward trajectory. Fans can witness the teams’ duel by tuning in on Virtius at 4 p.m. this Saturday.

Eriko Yamakuma covers men’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected]