Bears tie NCAA record versus Bruins, prepare for double-header with GymDawgs

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Just more than three weeks ago, Cal’s gymnasts had been adamant that they had more to give after posting a season-high score against Oregon State.

“It didn’t feel like that was the best,” said sophomore Maya Green. “We had a lot of room to grow.”

On Saturday, the Bears towered over the tall task. They shattered their program record with an overall score of 198.050, tying the third-highest score in the nation this year en route to an impressive win over then-No. 10 UCLA.

The Bears’ afternoon of personal bests and broken records was headlined by their bars rotation, which tied an all-time NCAA record and moved them into a tie with Florida for the best bars program in the country. Every Cal athlete scored at least 9.9 in the event, forcing the team to drop sophomore Nevaeh DeSouza’s 9.9, a score that would usually lead any other lineup in the country.

Senior Emi Watterson led the blue and gold, nailing her routine and earning a perfect 10. The Australian gymnast had only appeared in one uneven bars lineup this season, during which she earned an uncharacteristic 9.275. However, after recovering from minor injuries, the former Pac-12 Specialist of the Week was determined to rebound from her shaky debut.

“This week I remembered it was just a fluke,” Watterson said. “I took that energy and disappointment and channeled it into today.”

Watterson’s perfect score ends a 29-year drought for the Bears: the last gymnast to earn a 10 on the bars was Cindy Tom in 1992. The energy from Watterson’s two-of-a-kind performance carried over to the balance beam, where she led Cal to yet another school record. The blue and gold put up a 49.5, improving on their previous record by 0.025 points. While junior Maya Bordas, senior Kyana George and DeSouza all scored above 9.9, and Wattersons’ 9.95 highlighted the Bears’ beam performance.

But the team wasn’t done there. Cal capped off an already-excellent performance with the third-highest floor exercise mark in school history. This time, George was nearly perfect; her 9.95 catapulted the Bears past the Bruins’ usually dominant floor rotation. George has been flirting with perfection on the floor all season, averaging nearly 9.91 over the past three meets.

While Saturday’s duel put Cal deeper in conversation with the nation’s best, the blue and gold’s quiet rise to the top is old news for co-head coach Justin Howell.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily on the rise anymore,” Howell said. “We’re here.”

Cal will attempt to prove that its head-turning performances are here to stay when the team faces Washington twice this week. On Wednesday, the Bears will pay a visit to Seattle, and the GymDawgs will return the favor Sunday in Berkeley. No. 49 Washington hasn’t experienced the same national recognition as No. 6 Cal but has relied on a core group of athletes to garner consistent performances.

Senior Geneva Thompson has earned four event titles this season for the Gymdawgs and has been a reliable force on vault; throughout her career, she has secured eight vault titles and a 9.95 score in the event. Amara Cunningham has been a dominant floor specialist and matched her career high with 9.925 posting last weekend.

Nonetheless, the Bears’ National Qualifying Score of 197.425 is more than 3 points higher than the GymDawgs’ score of 194.169. Suffice to say, the blue and gold are the favorites in both of their matches this week.

Sunday’s home meet will be Cal’s last of the season, and the team intends to honor its seniors during their final performance at Haas Pavilion.

“It’s obviously a bummer not to have fans and their parents,” Howell said. “But we’re going to put on a good show and make sure they know that they’re loved and appreciated.”

Fans can catch the blue and gold in action Wednesday at 1 p.m. via Washington’s live stream and Sunday at 2 p.m.via Cal’s.

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