An injury-marred Cal men’s gymnastics team fought to the finish at the Stanford Open on Saturday night at Burnham Pavilion, but it wasn’t enough to top No. 1-Stanford or a group of U.S. national team members. Junior Noah Newfeld’s all-around performance, however, secured him a spot at the Winter Cup for the second year in a row.
The nontraditional meet saw six groups of athletes compete simultaneously. While Level 10 and elite athletes sought to qualify for the Winter Cup through individual performances, gymnasts on three teams looked to stand out not only individually but also collectively.
Alongside Cal and Stanford was Team USA, composed of former and current Stanford gymnasts in Blake Sun, Jeremy Bischoff, Taylor Burkhart, Asher Hong, Ian Lasic-Ellis and Riley Loos. Though a strong vault rotation put Stanford in the lead for most of the night, Team USA jumped into first with one rotation to go and stayed there. The national team members’ 411.7 resoundingly defeated Stanford’s 406.75 and Cal’s 390.1. Because they competed separately from the Cardinal, however, the U.S. national team members’ scores have no bearing on NCAA standings.
Despite finishing in third, the Bears saw highlights throughout the meet and after. Senior Will Lavanakul took the bronze on pommel horse with a 13.65, closing out a rotation that beat Stanford on the event the second time this year. Vault and parallel bars were also once again Cal’s highest-scoring events; its 70.45 and 67.7 on the two, respectively, were both within a point of the Cardinal’s marks.
“I feel like it was a step in the right direction,” said head coach JT Okada. “We weren’t as healthy going into this meet as I was expecting to be by now, and I think that showed a little bit, especially because we had two guys compete a lot of events, and by the last event, they were pretty tired. But this is what they’re going to be experiencing in the future, so it was a good learning experience.”
Newfeld, the Bears’ sole all-arounder, finished ninth with a score of 78.65. Though it originally appeared that he missed qualifying for the Winter Cup by less than a point — with three all-arounders ahead of him who were not prequalified — the team received word after the meet that he is eligible for the competition, a qualifier for U.S. championships and where the national team is named. Cal Athletics was unable to confirm his means of qualification by publication time; according to Winter Cup entry procedures, options include higher-finishing athletes qualifying via other methods or additional spots being open after all qualifying athletes are determined.
In different corners of Burnham Pavilion, Stanford gymnasts — some competing against their own teammates — also put on a show for the sold-out crowd. In addition to helping Team USA to the win, Hong ended the night with medals abound after garnering cheers nearly as loud as those for free pizza. The freshman took first in the all-around, on parallel bars and on vault, as well as second on floor and rings.
“After worlds, I kind of crashed, and it was hard to get back up, so I’m on the up, and hopefully, toward Winter Cup, I’ll be feeling 100% in shape again,” Hong, who competed at the world championships in late October and early November 2022, said. “I’m trying to still upgrade difficulty, but most of all, just clean up everything leading up to Paris 2024.”
Saturday also saw Khoi Young’s first all-around performance since last year, and the Stanford sophomore delivered, posting a third-place finish and earning the floor title. In addition to top-three performances on vault, high bar and parallel bars, Young jumped to No. 1 in the national all-around rankings with the highest NCAA score so far this season: 84.0. (Hong’s and Lasic-Ellis’ scores, though higher, do not count because they were competing under Team USA.)
“This was the first time that I did all-around since championships, where I hurt myself, so I’m really coming out just to expect to do my best, not do amazing, but I’m happy with the outcome,” Young said. “I think this is one of the biggest crowds I’ve had while my time at Stanford, and just to know that this was my crowd and they were all here kind of supporting my team and me is just, I don’t know — it really put fuel to the fire.”
Cal and Stanford will not face off again until March, giving both teams time to progress. The Bears, especially, will look to bounce back, remain healthy and preserve depth throughout the rest of the season. Fans will get their next look at the team when it competes against Air Force and Army on Feb. 11 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for its first tri-meet this season.