As No. 9 Cal continues to climb the national rankings, the pressure to be perfect has mounted. On Friday, for a fleeting moment, it seemed as though the Bears had finally cracked.
During the team’s bar rotation, senior Kyana George, who has been a consistent standout in the all-around competition, uncharacteristically fell off the apparatus. In line with collegiate gymnastics scoring, five out of six performances would count toward Cal’s final score, so every routine after George’s needed to hit.
In the midst of adversity, the blue and gold rose to the occasion. Senior Nina Schank got the team back on track with 9.875, followed by a 9.850 from junior Maya Bordas. However, it was sophomore Maya Green who anchored the Bears with a personal highlight. She earned a career-high 9.875, tying Schank and Utah’s Maile O’Keefe and Cristal Isa for the event title.
“I know if I was in Kyana’s spot, my teammates would have me. That’s just the chemistry on the team,” Green said. “It was definitely a nerve-wracking experience, but there were just a lot of things I was looking at that helped me feel better.”
To say Cal “felt better” after bars would be an understatement. While they dropped the lead after the second rotation, the blue and gold rallied to finish their night in Salt Lake City with a historic beam rotation. The Bears tallied a 49.450, a mark good enough for the second-highest score in program history. George bounced back with a 9.925, and none of the six athletes dipped below a 9.875.
Ironically, Cal was shaky on warmups leading up to the beam. However, co-head coach Justin Howell maintains that the group’s bumpy start propelled it to greatness.
“[Warmups] don’t bear any weight on what they’re going to do in competition,” Howell said. “For some, it’s an opportunity to say, ‘I know what I need to focus on when I compete, and I’m not going to let that happen again.’”
The Bears were originally slated to compete twice this week: against Stanford on Wednesday and against UCLA on Saturday. However, already plagued by meet cancellations this season, extenuating circumstances on the Cardinal’s side have prevented them from fielding a full roster and forced them to forgo their duel with Cal without plans to reschedule. Consequently, the Bears will never battle their rivals this season.
Instead, the blue and gold will look onward to face the Bruins in another top-10 matchup. Coming off the program’s first-ever Black Excellence-themed meet, No. 10 UCLA’s roster bears an eerie resemblance to Cal. Over their last two competitions, both squads have charted team scores within the 197-range. Each program boasts standout all-around performers:Csophomore Nevaeh DeSouza and George have shared the limelight for Cal, while senior Nia Dennis and junior Margzetta Frazier have alternated earning all-around titles for the Bruins.
Additionally, both teams have enjoyed their fair share of sensational newcomers. The Bears tow Andi Li, who has been a part of their record-shattering beam and bar lineups, and has been recognized as Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. On the other side of the mat, freshman Chae Campbell has been an asset for the Bruins, earning an all-around title at Utah and two Pac-12 Freshman of the Week nods.
However, in terms of strengths and weaknesses, the two rivals appear to be polar opposites. Although Cal appears to be a jack-of-all-trades, its performance against the Utes arguably established beam as the team’s strongest suit. UCLA, on the other hand, ranks lowest on beam out of all four events. While the Bears often record their lowest scores on the floor event, that is the Bruins’ signature as they rank No.10 in the nation for floor.
In fact, UCLA has found internet fame for its electric floor routines. The Bruins have garnered recognition from Janet Jackson and a shoutout from Michelle Obama.
Even Howell, himself, is admittedly looking forward to the dance party.
“It’s always fun to compete against UCLA,” Howell said. “I know they’re going to bring their A-game and so are we.”
Fans can catch Cal in action via the team’s livestream, when the Bears take on the Bruins this Saturday at 2 p.m.
Aiko Sudijono covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].