After defeat against Stanford, No. 10 Cal readies for Springfield College

Photo of Cal Men's Gymnastics's Jelani Sweet
David McAllister/Staff

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Despite the high expectations, then-No. 9 Cal fell short to this year’s defending national champion Stanford in a meet Saturday, finishing with a score of 380.200, 14.15 points behind the Cardinal. Shortly after its first loss this season, though, Cal will “host” a virtual meet against Springfield College on Wednesday, Feb. 17. As with all competitions this season, audiences are not allowed to attend the meet in person. Instead, it will be streamed through the streaming service Virtius.

Though the blue and gold opened the season with consecutive wins and appeared ready for an unranked Stanford squad, the team’s performances last weekend were not nearly enough.

Starting off strong with floor, Cal earned a team score of 65.300, only 0.75 behind the Cardinal. Multiple 13s from Bears, including junior Yu-Chen Lee, Cal’s consistent top scorer in the event, and all-arounders such as junior Kyle Abe and freshman Noah Newfeld, contributed to this fast start.

After the first event, however, Cal seemed to lose momentum, and the gap kept widening. Pommel horse, which has become one of the Bears’ better events, saw unexpected falls from specialists such as freshman Aidan Li. On rings, the Cardinal widened their lead again, this time by nearly three points.

In comparison to shaky routines in pommel horse and rings, vault was the most solid event of the meet for both sides. Every gymnast on both teams that competed in the event earned scores of 13 or above. Cal captain Caleb Rickard’s career high of 14.600 in the event gave Cal some confidence.

“After rings, we were able to huddle up as a team and mentally reset going into the vault, and that is where we began to pick it back up,” Rickard said in an email. “For me, the highlight of the meet was us coming together as a team and realizing where we had mentally messed up and being able to reset ourselves.”

However, in the very event at which the Bears are known to excel, Stanford outdid them. Four out of six Cardinal gymnasts that competed in the event reaped above 14s, bringing the team score up to 71.200 for the event.

Despite being without a few of the best gymnasts in the country, Stanford still managed to produce consistently high scores. Freshman Brandon Nguyen, the winner of the all-around title at the Men’s Junior Olympic National Championship in 2019, competed as an all-arounder for the meet and marked the highest scores of the competition in vault and horizontal bar. Sophomore Riley Loos dominated in two events — floor and still rings — and led the team by bringing home the all-around title for the meet.

Fortunately or unfortunately, a chance at redemption will come quicker than usual this week as a meet against Springfield College on Wednesday looms.

Due to the consecutive cancellations of meets this season, No. 16 Springfield will finally open the season with this week’s virtual matchup with Cal. Taking into account past scores, as well as the graduation of Stephen Lewis, two-time all-around champion of the Eastern College Athletic Conference, or ECAC, Springfield may appear to be behind Cal. Nevertheless, sophomore Dominic Ramalho, who earned All-American honors last season, may have replaced Lewis as the top gymnast for the Pride. Ramalho excels at floor, rings and vault and averaged in the mid-14s in the last event.

Fresh off of a loss, heading into the next one will be a challenge for Cal. This lack of time, though, seems to not bother the Bears. According to Yu-Chen Lee, the scheduling of the next meet fits into Cal’s practice routine perfectly and could even be taken as an opportunity to correct its mistakes quickly.

“I think we will just be making the same preparation like we have been for the past couple meets,” Lee said in an email. “We usually have an intrasquad on Wednesday, so we can determine our lineups, but for this week, instead of having an intrasquad on that day, we will just have a meet.”

Cal fans can see the Bears take on the Pride in the team’s first two-meet week of the season Wednesday, Feb. 17 on the streaming platform Virtius.

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