Cal snatches silver, earns highest score in team history at Pac-12 championship

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Karen Chow/File

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All eyes were on senior Kyana George at the end of the night in Maverik Center. Cal had been in third place for much of the competition, but UCLA’s disappointing beam rotation left second place on a platter for the Bears. George was last up for Cal and needed at least 9.3 on floor to cinch the silver medal. It was practically a victory lap for the senior, who hasn’t scored below a 9.875 the entire season. Her floor routine would be the final performance of the entire meet and likely her final dance in a Pac-12 championship.

“I told her to be fire,” said co-head coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell. “I don’t really need to tell Kyana too many things. Kyana knows exactly what she needs to do. I wanted her to let everybody see how beautiful she is.”

Never one to shy away from pressure, George coasted her team to a second-place finish. She scored a 9.95, just 0.025 points shy of her career high. George’s performance earned her a Pac-12 floor championship and propelled the Bears to a 49.525, their highest score of the night.

In addition to their fourth-quarter campaign for second, the blue and gold notched a team score of 197.375. Although Utah won the night, Cal’s team score was the program’s highest ever at a Pac-12 championship tournament.

Despite a historic performance, Cal’s coaching staff noted that the team still has room for improvement.

“We could have landed vault better,” Crandall-Howell said. “But at the same time, I want them to go out and be aggressive, and that’s what they did. Overall, if there’s a mistake to be made, I’ll take being too hard and too aggressive.”

Notably, the Bears seemed unphased by the pressures of the postseason compared to their three competitors. While Cal began the night with a solid vault rotation, Utah suffered uncharacteristic falls on bars, and UCLA faltered on floor, the team’s strongest event.

Cal co-head coach Justin Howell said the secret to the Bears’ nerves of steel boils down to preparation.

“They know the work they’ve put in the gym,” Howell said. “They trust in that process, and that’s what keeps them calm. You get nervous when you’re not prepared, and they’re very well prepared.”

Although Cal’s consistency eventually gave way to tremendous performances from Utah, the team’s usual stars continued to shine throughout the night.

The blue and gold’s signature bar rotation was predictably stellar: They earned a 49.325, the highest score at championships. Sophomore Nevaeh DeSouza, senior Nina Schank, senior Emi Watterson and freshman Andi Li all notched 9.9. With only .05 points separating their lowest and highest score, the Bears’ depth in the event will prove to be an asset in the postseason.

DeSouza also added to her high-scoring hot streak. The sophomore has not scored below 9.85 for three consecutive meets competing in the all-around. Her Saturday performance also earned her a third place finish in the individual all-around.

According to Crandall-Howell, DeSouza’s consistency is a source of comfort for the rest of her team.

“Nothing that she does in a meet is surprising to us because that’s what we see every single day,” Crandall Howell said. “Because her teammates know how dependable she is, they know exactly what to expect, and they know that she’s going to do her job.”

After wrapping up the first event of the postseason, the Bears must wait for the NCAA to determine its regional placement. The blue and gold could find themselves competing in Salt Lake City, Columbia, Durham or Morgantown. The selection will take place March 22 and can be viewed on the ncaa.com webcast.

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