Bears dam the Beavers, smash records, look to Red Rocks

Photo of Kyana George of Cal Gymnastics
Karen Chow/File

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The gravity-defying athleticism of the Cal women’s gymnastics team makes it easy to forget that at the end of the day, it’s still a group of college students. Like most college kids, the Bears seem to have found their rhythm at the midpoint of the semester. However, while most students are finally remembering to attend 8 a.m. discussions, the blue and gold settled into the season by making history.

In its second away meet of the season, Cal notched a season high and the fourth-highest score in program history. Although the Beavers tallied a season high, they could not hold back the Bears, who earned 197.425-196.200 in Corvallis. The Bears’ elite performance has only been topped by four other programs in the country this season.

While the entire meet was a program highlight, the Bears on bars were truly something to behold. Senior all-arounder Kyana George called the lineup’s performance “magical.”

After sophomore Nevaeh DeSouza led off the meet with a 9.9, her teammates followed suit in what became a historic lineup. Senior Nina Schank and junior Maya Bordas capped off the event by earning 9.925s and tying for the event title. By the end of the rotation, the blue and gold put up five scores of 9.9 or above for the second-highest bars score in program history (49.550).

After their performance Sunday, the blue and gold’s rankings skyrocketed: they’re now the No. 8 team in the country on the bars. Co-head coach Justin Howell is not surprised.

“We have a phenomenal bar group,” Howell said. “Our first three people up, we’re pretty confident that they can stick their dismounts. And once that gets rolling, it’s pretty infectious.”

In terms of individual performances, it was George who led the Bears to victory. George matched a career high in the all-around, earning a 39.650, the fifth-highest score in the nation this year and the third-highest in program history. The senior demonstrated unflappable consistency as she scored at least a 9.9 on every single event. In fact, George’s excellence has been a constant throughout the entire season; over the course of the last four meets, she did not score below a 9.750 on any event.

This season, it’s apparent that George, the self-described introvert, has found her inner diva on the floor. “Outside of the gym, I don’t really like big groups of people,” George said. “But when I’m in the gym and doing gymnastics, I’m like a whole different person.” It’s clear that George, who is currently ranked No. 10 all-around in the nation, will anchor the Bears with her newfound confidence.

Sunday’s meet also saw old favorites and new faces share the spotlight. Bordas took second place in the all-around with a 39.425, notching a 9.90 on beam after struggling with the event earlier in the season. After a last-minute switch, Sophomore Maya Green anchored the lineup in her floor debut, earning a 9.875. Finally, Schank earned a career high on the vault with a 9.90

Despite having one the greatest team performances of all time, George promises fans that the best of the Bears is yet to come.

“We all know we can do better,” George said. “That wasn’t our best performance.”

Fans can hold George to her word Friday when Cal travels to Salt Lake City to face off against No. 4 Utah. The meet will likely be the crescendo of the Bears season and the pressure will be on for the two teams, both of whom are still undefeated in conference competition.

The Red Rocks, led by sophomore all-around Maile O’Keefe, boast an impressive resume. Their program is an obvious national title contender and has cracked into the top 10 in every event this season. In addition to O’Keefe, who secured perfection with a 10.0 on balance beam against Washington, senior all-arounder Cristal Isa adds depth and consistency to the Red Rocks.

O’Keefe and George will battle for the all-around crown Friday, as they’re each ranked No. 9 and No. 10, respectively. On the team level, the Bears can play to their strengths and challenge the Red Rocks on bars, their weakest event.

While Utah has established themselves as a formidable team on a national level, Cal’s aptitude for improvement might make Friday’s meet a toss-up. Fans can tune in on the Pac-12 Network at 6 p.m. PST to watch one of the most highly anticipated meets of the year.

Aiko Sudijono covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].