After the Bears jumped into training late in October, it was apparent that they faced an upward battle to return to form. By the time Cal had its first dual meet, national contenders such as LSU and Oklahoma were well into their fourth week of competition.
But the Bears buried any lingering doubts about their ability in a Valentine’s Day showdown against Arizona State last Sunday. A slew of career highs propelled the Bears to a red-hot performance in which they led from the opening event and earned a 197.100.
While the entire team improved Sunday, sophomore Nevaeh DeSouza stole the spotlight at Haas with her second all-around title of the season and a career-high performance. With a 39.6, the sophomore bagged the fifth-highest score in program history and the seventh-highest in the country. DeSouza hit at least a 9.9 in all four events and set a new career high on floor. Somehow, within the first three meets, Cal’s young standout has improved on an outstanding freshman season that earned her Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors. This season, she already has four event titles to her name, as compared to the three she earned last year.
To head coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell, it’s apparent that the sophomore has established herself as a force to be reckoned with on a national scale.
“She’s got ice in her veins when it comes to handling pressure,” Crandall-Howell said. “She just goes out every single time and thinks about the tasks she has to perform and handles that with grace.”
Cal seems to balance DeSouza’s ice-cold composure with senior Kyana George’s fiery energy. On floor, the senior tied her career high with 9.95 and secured the event title to boot.
“The floor routine is fire,” Crandall-Howell said. “She is one of the best dancers in the country, and I was happy to see her get some recognition.”
Freshman Andi Li capped off a night of career highs. Despite having only competed twice at collegiate level, the freshman showed no signs of inexperience. She tallied a 9.925 on the uneven bars, earning a career high and the event title in the process. This score ties for the highest on the uneven bars in the Pac-12 conference this season.
Despite its late start, Cal has interjected itself into the national conversation. With a score in the 197s, Cal joins the ranks of the country’s best. For the Bears, their gradual climb to the top was all a part of the plan.
“We definitely had to reinvent our training plan based on being about eight to nine weeks behind where we typically would be,” Crandall-Howell said. “We knew that we would start the season still ramping up.”
Cal will look to carry its recent successes into the Gill Coliseum when the team takes on Oregon State next weekend. While the Beavers are strong on vault and floor, their performances on bars and beam have prevented them from breaking into the 196s. Their highest score of the season is a 195.850, 1.25 points lower than Cal’s season high. Additionally, the team has been hampered by COVID-19 protocols, as its last meet against Arizona was canceled.
The Beavers may boast standouts on vault such as junior Madi Dagen, who scored a 9.950 on vault against Washington. But the Bears should still expect to command the stadium Sunday. The meet should arguably be considered a confidence builder, as the Bears look to take on higher-ranked foes such as Utah and UCLA in the coming weeks.
Facing a tough program or not, the Bears continue to look inward.
“For us, it doesn’t really matter who the opponent is, our goals are the same” Crandall-Howell said. “We talk to the girls a lot about being ACEs, which stands for attitude, concentration and effort. We’re really just going into every single competition trying to have a greater mastery of being an ACE.”
Approaching the halfway mark of conference competition, the Bears have seemingly found their rhythm. Fans can catch the Bears in action on the Cal live stream this Sunday at 2 p.m.
Aiko Sudijono covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].