Despite a global pandemic and a delayed start to training, Cal has managed its most successful season in program history. When asked about their proudest moments over this historic season, the Bears’ coaches felt there were too many to count.
“It’s more of a cumulative thing,” said co-head coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell. “We have consistently performed on par with the highest-level teams in the country.”
This weekend, the results of Cal’s cumulative effort will be put to the test at the NCAA Championships. After last season was abruptly cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bears will return to the national spotlight, making their fourth team trip to the NCAA Championships in program history. This time around, Cal enters the competition ranked No. 6 nationally and still holds the No. 1 spot on bars.
The Bears’ performances on bars have made up the core of their historic season. In Fort Worth, Texas, Cal will certainly need to score big on bars if it hopes to advance to the finals Saturday.
The Bears test drove this strategy in the final round of the NCAA Regionals to mixed results. While the blue and gold were expected to deliver on bars, they scored a 49.425, their lowest tally in the event this postseason. Still, senior Emi Watterson continued her run of dominance. After missing some meets due to minor injuries, Watterson has averaged a 9.94 on bars during the postseason.
But Cal will have competition: No. 2 Michigan earned the highest bars score at the finals of the NCAA Regionals, posting a whopping 49.725. Speaking of the Wolverines, the Bears will encounter their familiar foes on the first night of the competition. Alongside No. 3 Florida and No. 8 Minnesota, Cal and Michigan round out Semifinal I. Undoubtedly, this pool promises to be the toughest competition the Bears have encountered all season.
The Wolverines have peaked at just the right time, having tied their highest score in program history at the finals of the NCAA Regionals. Their score of 198.100 edges out Cal’s season-high mark by five tenths of a point.
The Gators have historically been a gymnastics powerhouse — since 1999, they’ve ranked as a top-10 program every year, only missing the mark in 2000. The blue and gold will have their hands full with junior Trinity Thomas, who ended the regular season as the nation’s No. 1 all around gymnast. Florida also boasts senior Alyssa Baumann, who, like Cal’s Kyana George, is a finalist for the American Athletic, Inc. Award, which is presented to the best senior female gymnast in the country.
Although they earned the lowest qualifying score of the eight teams competing Friday, the Gophers should not be counted out. Minnesota made an astonishing comeback from third place at NCAA Regionals in order to punch their ticket to the championships.
Despite the intense competition, the Bears are still within reach of a national championship. If Cal can excel at its strengths, it should claim a high chance of being one of the four on the floor on Saturday.
Pressure looms high, but the Bears have pulled positive messages to distract themselves. In fact, Cal is determined to make its trip to Fort Worth a celebration regardless of the outcome.
“It’s really about us being able to go out there and show everyone what we’ve been working on,” George said. “Honestly, we want to celebrate everything we’ve been through.”
The Bears will compete in Friday’s Semifinal I, which will be broadcast on ESPN 2. If Cal advances to the finals Saturday, its performance will be broadcast on ABC in what will mark the first time the network has ever broadcast the competition in history.
Aiko Sudijono covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].