Utah fans flocked to Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah, on Saturday night for the second year in a row to watch their home team take on Cal, UCLA and Oregon State in the 2023 Pac-12 gymnastics championship. The Red Rocks faithful were not disappointed, as the Utes took home the conference crown for the third-straight year with a 197.925.
Though the team closest to home finished in the lead, the final results came down to the last rotation and saw the top-three programs finish within 0.1 of one another. UCLA took second with a 197.85, while Cal closely followed with a 197.825, its highest road score this season and the best conference championship mark in program history. Though Oregon State started the night with the lead, the Beavers ended at a distant fourth with a 197.2. The orange bloc at Maverik Center had much to cheer for, however, as sophomore Jade Carey defended her all-around title with a 39.75 and tied for first on floor and beam.
Carey’s Olympic teammate and UCLA sophomore Jordan Chiles earned the bars title and the other half of the floor crown, while Cal sophomore Mya Lauzon walked away with the other share of the beam title, winning the Bears’ first-ever individual Pac-12 win on the event.
The two-time Pac-12 Specialist of the Week, who notched a perfect 10 on beam last weekend at Haas Pavilion, executed a near-perfect beam routine that gave her a 9.975 to close out the night. Her performances on floor and vault also tallied 9.9-plus scores and landed her in the top three of each event.
“Going into this season, I didn’t really have any set goals for awards,” Lauzon said. “(But) I dialed in, and I think Liz (Crandall-Howell) helped me realize that I have a lot of potential, especially on beam, and so being honored with that award is pretty awesome.”
The rest of Cal’s beam lineup also demonstrated its power on beam, as the Bears recorded the highest overall beam score of all the Pac-12 teams. Though teams generally want to avoid ending a meet on beam — an event sometimes conducive to costly mistakes — Cal chose to do so.
As the No. 3 seed, the Bears chose their rotation order after UCLA and Utah. They deviated from the traditional choice of starting on beam and ending on bars, opting instead to start on floor and end on their strongest events, bars and beam. The decision also forced Oregon State to start on beam and end on vault and bars, two weaker events for the Beavers.
“I am really excited about the way that we, especially on beam, are thriving in high-pressure situations,” said co-head coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell on Sunday. “Last night was a great preparation for being in a qualifying situation because it was super high pressure, the meet was close, it was super loud in the building — and this team steps up under those circumstances.”
Co-head coaches Crandall-Howell and Justin Howell were out due to illness during the Bears’ last road meet, the Purple and Gold Classic. The two returned for the two home meets last weekend, but Howell missed the Pac-12 championship due to illness again. The team relied on one of its core values, adaptability, to compete without a key figure of the program.
Adaptability also gave Cal the means to perform in front of a passionate Utah crowd, one that creates a loud and potentially distracting atmosphere. Crandall-Howell said the team practices its “Bear bubble” with distraction beam routines, where others do anything besides touching the gymnast to distract them while they’re on the beam. Coaches also sometimes play loud crowd noise in the gym without warning, preparing the team for filled arenas.
“I actually really enjoyed the crowd,” said sophomore Maddie Williams, who tied for second on bars with a 9.95. “We were talking about ways that we could think that they were cheering for us even if they weren’t.”
The work Cal has put in to focus internally will be ever more important when it travels to Pittsburgh at the end of March for NCAA regionals. Though the Bears’ Pac-12 championship score raised their national qualifying score, they remain at No. 7 in the nation and are slated to face No. 2 Florida, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 15 Arizona State for two tickets to nationals.