The Big Flip on Sunday yielded big results for a few of the blue and gold — in particular, sophomore Aidan Li, who earned second in the competition on pommel horse and third in modern school history for the apparatus. The team, while increasing its score by leaps and bounds from last meet’s 386.950 to 391.300, still performed just below its season best of 393.000.
Li brought his A-game after a couple of bumpy meets, which played an important role in bringing Cal’s team score up. Previously scoring 12.550 on pommel horse at the Pac 12 Invite, this time Li secured a 13.900, just trailing Stanford gymnast and Olympian Brody Malone, who scored 14.000.
“I have pretty hard standards for myself, especially because I’m a specialist,” Li said. “I really just do one event in competition, so I feel like I really need to hit and do a good job to help the team.”
Li attributed his improvement to increased confidence and hours in the gym. For the past few weeks, head coach JT Okada has been preaching focus as key, and his lessons seemed to have unlocked Li’s potential.
Five other gymnasts flew to new heights Sunday as well. Freshman Tyler Shimizu posted personal bests on still rings and floor, leading the Bears after senior Yu-Chen Lee’s floor routine of 13.950. Freshman Landon Wu and sophomore Chris Scales also topped their personal bests on still rings with scores of 13.000 and 12.700, respectively.
Junior Aidan Giusti also surpassed a personal record by scoring 13.600 on parallel bars. Sophomore Seth Ornelas competed a double front on vault for the first time and, though he didn’t hit, still managed to score his personal best of 13.600.
While he didn’t beat a personal record, sophomore Jelani Sweet earned the highest execution score for the Bears that day with a 9.35 on vault.
“Jelani did a great job stepping up and hitting two for two,” Li said. “It really helped our team.”
Li noted that besides Sweet, fewer gymnasts hit their routines than Cal had hoped would, and doing so continued to be a focus in preparation for the next meet against No. 13 Air Force. Okada’s theme this week to help boost the team’s spirits was grit, which the Bears will need if they want to push past the 400.000 mark.
High bar, in particular, presents a challenge to this goal for the blue and gold. The team’s scores on the apparatus are not only consistently lower than its scores on others, but they have also been regressing. At the Stanford Open Cal, scored a 64.350; at the Pac 12 Invite its score went down to a 63.350; and, most recently, the team only scored a 59.450.
Each meet is an opportunity to improve, and the lower the pressure at a competition, the easier it is to do so. Facing Air Force, which is ranked last in NCAA men’s gymnastics, might give Cal the opportunity to post some new records and raise its high bar team score.
“I do feel there’s room for improvement for myself,” Li said. “I did make some mistakes, and it’s definitely something I’ll be looking to fix for the upcoming meet.”
Li is planning to maintain his momentum moving forward. In doing so, he hopes to first address the execution score deductions he received, which earned him a 8.50 on pommel horse, at this Sunday’s meet by hitting a smoother dismount. In order to have a chance at competing for a national title on pommel horse at the NCAA national championships in April, Li is also looking to increase his difficulty score, which is currently hovering at 5.4.
Cal fans are looking forward to a win Sunday, one that should be well within reach. Air Force’s most recent — and season-best — score was 379.900, which is still significantly lower than the Bear’s lowest score this season of 382.100.
Only time will tell if Cal posts another big result against a not-so-big opponent.