It isn’t college sports without things somehow going as planned but also not at all. And every NCAA regional March 30 to April 2 showed that women’s gymnastics is in many ways the epitome of college sports.
No. 6 LSU was knocked out before the Raleigh regional finals by No. 22 Iowa, and No. 29 Stanford upset No. 13 Oregon State and No. 19 Illinois to move on to the Seattle regional finals. With other regionals seemingly full of upsets, fans may have hoped for No. 9 Cal — facing No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 8 Minnesota and No. 18 Arkansas — to best the higher-ranked teams and punch a ticket to the national championships.
But sometimes meets go exactly as expected: After narrowly securing a spot in the Norman regional final, the Bears fell just short of landing in the top two. Despite moving into second before the last rotation thanks to a program-record performance on beam, Minnesota’s 49.65 floor rotation helped the Gophers to a score of 197.725, good for second behind Oklahoma’s 198.25 and ahead of Cal’s 197.3.
Without any individual competitors qualifying for the national championships either, the Bears’ season officially ended Saturday. But along the way, Cal showed time and time again its skill and resiliency.
The Bears started the regional semifinal Thursday with a 48.95 on vault, putting them in fourth behind Minnesota, No. 24 Boise State and No. 25 Utah State. But they displayed their ability to perform under pressure in the next three rotations.
“We didn’t land as well as we can, but the judging was tight,” said co-head coach Justin Howell in a Cal Athletics press release. “This is why we don’t pay attention to scores, they were dynamic and aggressive. We wanted to keep that energy and effort on bars; we know that’s an event we can score exceptionally well and they landed exceptionally well on bars today.”
Sophomore Andi Li and junior Nevaeh DeSouza’s 9.925s on bars led the Bears to a 49.5 on the event, their second highest this year. Cal followed that with a 49.4 on beam, cemented by Li and senior Maya Bordas’ 9.9s. The two events made up for the first-rotation deficit and put the team in second going onto floor, but an uncharacteristic step out of bounds by DeSouza almost threatened Cal’s spot in the regional final.
Another mistake in the lineup would’ve forced the Bears to count a lower score and potentially give Utah State the No. 2 spot. But Bordas, Li, freshman Mya Lauzon and seniors Milan Clausi and Grace Quinn delivered. Bordas’ 9.875 set the stage for Clausi’s 9.925, which Li and Lauzon followed with 9.9s. With Cal in fourth before Quinn’s 9.925 allowed it to drop DeSouza’s score, all eyes were on her to secure the Bears’ ticket to the regional final.
Two days later, fans may have been looking forward to a different start. After all, vault is generally the blue and gold’s weakest event, while bars is typically their strongest. But Cal’s 49.125 on bars (low by its standards) moved the team into fourth place after the first rotation once again. With stronger teams in contention and vault still to come, that may have been what ended the Bears’ season.
Cal never stopped fighting, however. In the second rotation, Bordas’ 9.9 on beam led the way for matching 9.95s from Li and Lauzon to close the rotation. The school-record 49.525 moved the Bears into a third-place tie with Arkansas.
“They were on fire on beam,” said co-head coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell in a Cal Athletics press release. “We’ve been waiting on the beam record for a while and I was just so proud, but that doesn’t even feel like enough to describe how I feel.”
The Bears tied their regional semifinal floor performance with another 49.525 — the fourth best in program history — with five scores of 9.9 or better, led by Li’s 9.925. They moved into second ahead of Minnesota entering the last rotation, but Cal could not maintain the slight lead despite improving on its vault score from Thursday with a 49.125.
“We’ve had several moments of adversity thrown at us this season,” Crandall-Howell said in the press release. “We as a group thrive under the hardest of circumstances. The victories we’ve accomplished this year can’t be reflected in the scores.”
Cal may not be headed to Fort Worth, Texas, for the NCAA championships in a few weeks, but the Bears will restart their road to nationals in less than a year for the 2023 season.