The Bears have once again vaulted themselves into a new season-high score for a single event, but if the team wants to make it to the big leagues, it’s going to have to prove it’s not a one-trick pony. With one more opportunity to test its lineup for championships in April against No. 2 Oklahoma on Saturday, we’ll see if Cal can hit the mark.
Cal faced off against No. 1 Stanford on Saturday and while it lost 411.300 to 389.600, the team achieved its highest score yet on vault. Despite previously scoring well on its other events, the team fumbled and only pulled through on the single apparatus with a score of 70.450.
This has become a pattern.
The Golden Bears regularly do well on one or two events but struggle to pull all of them off at the same meet.
“We’ve done well on individual events over the course of the year at different meets and times, but going into our last regular-season meet and postseason, it’s going to be about putting all six events together at once at the same time,” said coach J.T. Okada.
Okada had taken some risks with Saturday’s lineup, giving some gymnasts a last opportunity to prove they belong on the team that will compete at the MPSF championships April 2 and the NCAA championships April 15-16. This likely explains the team’s score, which was the lowest it’s been since the beginning of the season.
According to Okada, no gymnast rose to the occasion. Instead, the meet served to solidify his belief in those who had already been consistent performers this season.
“Seven meets have gone by now, and we’re pretty certain about who we’re going to want as our final five in each event,” Okada said.
There was one top competitor, however, who gave a disappointing performance. Sophomore Aidan Li recorded his lowest score of the season on pommel horse, the only event he typically competes on, with a 7.25 execution score and a final score of 12.350. While Li didn’t fall, he completed a messy routine, which resulted in the third-lowest execution score of the 10 gymnasts who performed on the event that day.
Li noted that while he’s disappointed in his performance, he prepared for the competition as well as he knew how and that, sometimes, routines don’t go as planned. He added that the additional pressure of the event drawing a larger audience due to it being the team’s senior night and his parents flying in from Canada was likely the culprit. Moving forward, Li plans to better prepare mentally for the extra stress of competition.
“I know I’m ready to do all of these routines, and I can do them well since I’ve done them in practice,” Li said. “I really need to be strong mentally and come into the competition with a better mindset, so I can deal with the stress or pressure better.”
Scores for pommel horse were low across the board for the lineup, which ended with a combined score of 60.950, 3.3 points below its last score. Despite its performance, however, Okada hadn’t lost any faith in the team he assembled for the event. He noted that he will likely tweak the line up slightly but ultimately feels “really good” about who he had set to compete Saturday.
The meet marked the last time graduating seniors Caleb Rickard and Kyle Abe competed at Haas Pavilion, a moment Li described as “bittersweet.” Because it was senior night, Okada decided to take some risks and gave Abe an opportunity to perform on events he hadn’t been able to recently.
According to Okada, some of these risks ended up paying off “real well.”
Due to an injury, Abe had taken a break from competing on vault but ended up contributing to the team’s season best score on vault by tying his season best of 13.900. He also returned to the floor after not having been included in the lineup for several weeks and scored 14.000, just behind Yu-Chen Lee’s 14.050.
Rickard also wowed the crowd with his routine on high bars. Despite the pressure of being the last to compete at the meet, Rickard pulled through and completed some more difficult skills than he typically does, ending with a 12.700.
The NCAA championships will be held in Oklahoma, so the team will be looking at Saturday’s meet as a practice run for the competition. The meet is also the blue and gold’s last chance to raise their national qualifying average during the regular meet, a goal Okada hopes to achieve.
The team will be approaching Saturday with its best foot forward. Cal fans can only hope the team will be able to put the puzzle pieces together and finally perform on all six events.