Though it missed the spot for the final stage after finishing in 6th in the qualifying session, Cal earned its season-best total of 392.055 and sent three gymnasts to the finals at the NCAA championship last weekend. Among them, captain Caleb Rickard earned All-American honors by tying for fifth on vault at the competition, while also capturing a school record of 14.666.
Prior to the meet, Rickard communicated to his young team what each gymnast’s mindset for the competition should be.
“Going into the meet, we told the team to leave everything out on the table and end the meet with zero regrets,” Rickard said in an email. “And that is exactly what we all did.”
On the first day at the qualifier, Cal managed to get a head start on rings with a score of 63.264, something the team has tried to do all season long. The Bears’ highlights of the night came during floor, in which the blue and gold garnered a season-high of 69.065 — an over six point improvement from the MPSF championship a week prior. The Bears also showed off their efforts on vault and high bar, notching their second best scores for the season in both events.
Seeing as the team finished 6th in the session, Cal did not advance to the final session on Saturday. Nevertheless, the No. 11 Bears as a team placed 10th overall in the competition and three individuals were selected to compete at the final stage on three events — Rickard on vault and high bar, junior Yu-Chen Lee on floor and freshman Noah Newfeld on high bar.
The finale of the NCAA Championships was a time of great pride for the program. Rickard made history with his school record on vault, which earned him a tie for fifth in the finals, as well as All-American honors. Hitting a season-best of 14.133, Lee finished 24th on floor, while freshman star Newfeld took 43rd on high bar.
“I am so proud of the team and how we finished the season at NCAA Championships,” said head coach J.T. Okada in an email. “We finished with a team high score for the season and the progress we made steadily throughout the season was nothing short of impressive.”
This year’s national championship meet was the first big stage for most members of the young team. For a stellar talent like Newfeld, who was named the first ever winner of the CGA Rookie of the Year award in Cal’s history, the challenges faced at the first national collegiate stage may become a stepping stone for the future.
“NCAAs was definitely the biggest meet I have ever competed in so far and the pressure was really high,” Newfeld said in an email. “However, it was the most entertaining meet as well because the energy was so high and the atmosphere of high-level gymnastics was very motivating.”
The competition concluded with Stanford taking home the national title, its second consecutive championship and its seventh in program history. Top-ranked Oklahoma came in second, and Michigan finished just 1.233 points behind the Sooners.
The national meet marks the end of a season that was rife with peculiarities.
“I’ll never forget what it felt like walking back into the gym for the first time in 7 months, how weird it was wearing masks while performing all the flips and twists, not being able to high-five each other, and even having to use our own personal chalk bins,” Rickard said.
But the unique experiences that Rickard recounts will pave the way for the young team to thrive in the next year when, hopefully, the clouds of the pandemic have lifted.
“Looking towards next year, now that the team gained more experience, we need and will be ready to surprise some people,” Rickard said.
Eriko Yamakuma covers men’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected]