Sometimes, disappointment can actually spur a higher level of performance. That was what happened to Cal last Wednesday when the Bears captured a win following a tough loss at the hands of rival Stanford just four days prior.
No. 10 Cal topped Springfield College by 17.25 points Feb. 17, hitting a season-high score of 387.2. Getting back to their winning ways, and this time with a week to prepare, the blue and gold are ready to square off with No.11 William & Mary in another virtual meet Wednesday. Like all of the other virtual meets this season, spectators are not allowed to attend the meet in person, but the competition can be accessed through the streaming service Virtius.
Against Springfield, which ranks lower than Cal, one obstacle was the short turnaround between meets, which could have affected the Bears’ ability to prepare. Three days in between the meets, however, ultimately turned out to be enough for Cal to amend issues from its last meet.
“Although we knew there was a short week to prepare for this meet, the team did a tremendous job,” said head coach J.T. Okada. “Some key improvements were our hit percentage went up and that we had more stick landings on dismounts.”
From the opening floor event, Cal saw some standout performances. In addition to sophomore Aidan Giusti’s 13.1 performance, junior Yu-Chen Lee concluded the event with a season-high score of 14.0, protecting his position as the Bears’ top scorer on floor so far this season.
Cal showed the most improvement on the pommel horse, which had been a challenge for the team in its last meet. Not only did the blue and gold see two consecutive 13-range scores from freshmen Noah Newfeld and Aidan Li, but sophomore Will Lavanakul notched a score of 14.25. Lavanakul left a permanent mark: The score ranks second highest in school history for pommel horse as well as No. 3 nationally for the event this season.
The Bears displayed excellence not only by topping the Pride in total event scoring but also by capturing the top score in every individual event. Lee earned victories on floor, still rings and parallel bars, while Caleb Rickard, Collin Cunane and Newfeld secured wins on vault, on horizontal bar and in the all-around, respectively.
On the other side of the mat, more than 3,000 miles away, Springfield opened its season with its first-ever experience with the virtual meet format. Led by an All-American honoree from last season in Dominic Ramalho, who ranked in the top three in two events, the Pride had some performances of their own. On vault, five out of the team’s six gymnasts garnered scores higher than 13. Nevertheless, Springfield could not narrow the gap throughout the meet, opening its 2021 campaign with a loss to Cal.
Quickly fixing issues that plagued them in the past, the Bears hit a season-best total score, improving their tally by 7 points compared to their loss to the Cardinal. For this Wednesday’s match, the blue and gold not only look to continue improving but also want to be strategic about routines and lineups as they move further along in the season.
“We’re going to utilize this time to focus on some skills that we have problems with,” Lee said. “The goal for the team for the next competition is to hit the mark of 390 for a total team score.”
That milestone will be put to the test against No. 11 William & Mary. Though the Tribe are right on the Bears’ heels in overall national rankings, their victory over defending champion Stanford in their opening meet does speak volumes about the challenge they pose to Cal. The Tribe are equipped with multiple high scorers such as standout junior Christian Marsh, who was selected the Eastern College Athletic Conference Specialist of the Week after he posted career highs on pommel horse and rings against the Cardinal. Excelling at the former, Marsh sits at No. 14 nationally for pommel horse.
William & Mary boasts a steady stream of scores on vault and floor and possesses the potential to flash higher scores elsewhere. However, the blue and gold have competed in four virtual meets this season compared to the Tribe’s two, seemingly indicating more experience. Going into its fifth meet of the season, Cal feels a heightened expectation to both improve performances and hit closer to the benchmark score of 400.
Cal fans can watch the match virtually through Virtius at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Eriko Yamakuma covers men’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].