For the books: No. 11 Cal upsets No. 3 Utah to set tone for season

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A No. 11 ranking does not make you an underdog — unless you’re facing the nation’s third-best program.  

In front of perhaps the largest crowd in Haas Pavilion this season, No. 11 Cal dominated No. 3 Utah 197.525-197.275. The top two teams in the Pac-12 put on a show for a sea of fans dressed in blue, gold and red.

Counting no scores below a 9.775 and only one under 9.8, the Bears posted season-best vault, floor and total scores, which were good for the eighth-highest vault score and seventh-highest floor and total scores in school history. Sophomore Andi Li and junior Nevaeh DeSouza added the cherry on top with career-best scores in the all-around. Li’s meet-winning 39.65 is also the third highest in program history.

The Bears defeated the Utes for the first time since 2018 and etched Saturday into the record books, despite missing key gymnasts Milan Clausi and Mya Lauzon due to sickness and injury, respectively. Clausi, who also missed the previous meet against Stanford, is expected to return for the team’s next meet against Arizona. 

“We’re in a weird state because some people got hurt and there’s sicknesses going around,” Li said. “We don’t have a set group that goes in and competes every time, so I’m just glad that everyone’s getting a chance to compete and experiencing this amazing atmosphere.”

The Bears’ commanding performance contributed to their win, but stumbles throughout Utah’s performance cemented it. Olympic silver medalist Grace McCallum, Utah’s sole planned all-arounder for the meet, fell off of the bars in the first rotation and did not compete on beam.

After trailing Cal following the first and second rotations, the Utes recorded a staggering 49.525 on floor to take the lead entering the fourth rotation. Two mistakes on beam undermined Utah’s own lead. A missed connection in junior Abby Paulson’s beam routine resulted in a 9.575, and a fall in senior Cristal Isa’s routine forced the Red Rocks to take the low score.

At the same time, Cal posted three 9.9s and a 9.5 on track to its best floor score of the season and effectively handed the Red Rocks their first regular-season loss since 2019 to make the Bears the only remaining undefeated Pac-12 team.

“We were trying not to think about who we were competing against tonight and treat it like every other meet, and we just went out there and tried to have the most fun that we could,” DeSouza, who took second in the all-around with a career-high 39.625, said. “We were all pretty locked in and focused on what we needed to do, and every person hit.”

Utah’s mistakes on the event that was previously its best, coupled with the Bears’ consistent performance, were too large to be overcome by outstanding individual performances — the Utes took home the individual vault, floor and beam titles.  

Among the afternoon’s several notable events for Cal was the collegiate debut of sophomore Gabby Perea. The former U.S. national team member recorded a 9.9 on bars in her first routine for the Bears and followed that with a 9.825 on floor, the final routine of the meet.

“I’m still in the moment. It really hasn’t sunk in yet that I competed,” Perea said after the meet. “To come out and get a 9.9 — I’m lost for words.”   

Saturday may well have been more devastating to the Red Rocks’ season than it was paramount to the Bears’. Scores aside, Utah junior Jillian Hoffman, a key figure in the team’s floor and vault lineups this season, suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury during floor warmups. 

With Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA the only Pac-12 teams remaining on Cal’s schedule, the Bears’ win all but guaranteed them the regular-season conference title. Utah has won both Pac-12 regular-season championships since it was put up for grabs for the first time in 2020. Without any opportunities for the Red Rocks to redeem themselves against Cal until the postseason, they will need to win all remaining Pac-12 matchups and for the Bears to lose two of their three upcoming meets to secure a three-peat.

The blue and gold will look to defend their undefeated record Presidents Day when Arizona visits Berkeley. 

Jocelyn Huang covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter @jocelynxhuang.