Traveling upward with masks on: Cal heads to Colorado for MPSF Championship Meet

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David McAllister/Staff

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This unusual gymnastics season, which started out full of uncertainty, is nearing the end.

On Saturday, March 20, in their last head-to-head meet of the season, the Bears squared off with the Sooners, the highest-ranked team in the nation. Despite earning a final team score of 390.600, Cal fell to Oklahoma, which garnered a team score of 404.700. The next stop for the Bears is the MPSF Championship Meet, which will be held at the Air Force Academy in Colorado on April 3.

Even when facing a top-ranked team, Cal stood strong while focusing on fixing errors from past meets. This left space for freshmen such as Collin Cunane to hit routines with confidence.

“At this point in the season, I think that all of us are confident in our abilities to consistently hit our routines,” Cunane said. “Our performance in this week’s meet against Oklahoma reflected our confidence.”

Continuing a positive trend from the last meet, Bears started off with solid floor routines. Junior Yu-Chen Lee led the way with a score of 14.000, followed by a career-high of 13.250 from Cunane.

Cal has shown great improvement on the pommel horse this season, and that was made evident when the Bears earned a 62.000 in the event, a score that fell behind the Sooners by just 0.850 points. That score was thanks to the specialists in the team, including sophomore Will Lavanakul and freshman Aidan Li, both of whom finished in the top three among all gymnasts in the event on the day.

While vault is still Cal’s strongest event (team captain Caleb Rickard brought home the victory), Cal improved in three events — rings, parallel bars and high bars. In rings and parallel bars, the Bears earned their season-best team scores.

Multiple bests were set in these three events for Cal. Freshman Noah Newfeld hit a career-high 13.150 on rings and a 13.950 — the highest score he has earned in any event — on parallel bars. Lee also raised the bar for the team, earning the honor of MPSF Gymnast of the Week for the second time this season after hitting a career-high on high bar and a season-best on parallel bars.

Despite the loss to the No.1 Sooners, Rickard sees great potential in the team.

“Going up against the number one team in the country is never an easy thing to do, but I think as a team we stepped up to that challenge,” Rickard said in an email. “We have the talent and capability of giving these top teams a run for their money, and that if we can put everything together, we’re a team that might surprise some people. ”

After its last head-to-head meet of the season and a week of rest in between, Cal will head to Colorado for the MPSF Championship Meet, where familiar opponents — Oklahoma, Stanford and Air Force, to name a few — will gather.

Despite the unusual circumstances throughout this season, including virtual meets, Cal head coach J.T. Okada has kept his eyes on the big stage. Wearing masks may just work as a useful preparation tool for the venue located in the high altitude of Colorado.

“We will need to have a strong showing at MPSF to qualify to NCAA Championships,” Okada said in an email. “We’ve been preparing for the challenges of competing in altitude in Colorado by doing routines with our masks on the whole time!”

With masks on, Cal will hit the floor April 3, 12 p.m., at the Air Force Academy.

Eriko Yamakuma covers men’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].