In many sports, the postseason presents a unique pressure: Any meet could end a team’s season — and an athlete’s competitive career. In college gymnastics, where there’s no pipeline into a professional league, the latter is almost guaranteed.
Two meets into the postseason, Cal women’s gymnastics has shown its ability to embrace the pressure, recording its highest away score ever to win its regional final and clinch a spot at the national championship. The Bears’ 198.075 was also the highest score across all four regional finals, setting up momentum as they head to nationals for only the fifth time in program history.
Cal begins the end of its season Thursday at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. It will compete against Florida, LSU and Denver in the first semifinal at noon Pacific time, seeking one of two spots in the final Saturday. The other two tickets will be punched later during the second semifinal, with Oklahoma, UCLA, Utah and Kentucky.
The Bears are looking for their first NCAA finals appearance and their best finish in history — currently seventh. With LSU and Denver upsetting then-No. 3 Michigan in their regional, Cal’s path to both is a bit less narrow. Each team is capable of landing in the top two at the end of the afternoon, providing fans with a tight race.
“Emotionally, I think that we’re riding high from the regionals performance and want to carry that same enthusiasm into the week,” said Cal co-head coach Liz Crandall-Howell. “We’re super excited to be sharing the floor with the other teams. … This time in college gymnastics has been amazing to see — so many teams that could be in it, and so many teams competing at a high level.”
In addition to a finals berth, the Bears can earn their second individual national title Thursday. Maya Bordas won the program’s first only two years ago on bars, and several members of the team are capable of bringing home hardware.
Junior Andi Li and sophomore Maddie Williams have been consistent with 9.9-plus scores on bars, while sophomore Mya Lauzon and junior Gabby Perea have anchored the beam lineup with near-perfect routines. Freshman eMjae Frazier is a contender not only for the floor title but also for the all-around after breaking the school record with a 39.75 at regionals.
The team has made it clear since the start of the season that its ultimate goal is to be one of the four teams on the floor at the national final. With that target now within reach, the Bears are focused on treasuring each moment.
“We are just going into it like we did day two of regionals,” said senior Nevaeh DeSouza, who has confirmed she will not be using her fifth year of eligibility from the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re thinking, ‘Hey, this could be one of our last times competing together as a team, so just enjoy the moment, create memories and just be our normal selves.’ And if we get to day two, then that’s a bonus.”
With the right draw, this weekend could also offer another blessing to the Frazier family. If Cal and UCLA both advance to the final session, sisters eMjae and Margzetta Frazier will also reunite, competing in the same session for the third time this season.
With four years between the two, competing in the NCAA at the same time wasn’t in the cards but was made possible by Margzetta’s COVID-19 year.
“The fact that we get a chance to compete together and just be at the same competition, being able to cheer each other on and then potentially being able to be in the same session is really cool,” the younger Frazier said. “It’s something that I never thought would happen, and it’s really amazing how things work.”
Whether Cal’s season ends Thursday or Saturday, fans can expect the Bears to have fun while displaying their signature consistency. Both semifinals will air on ESPN2 on Thursday; the first semifinal, featuring Cal, begins at noon Pacific time, and the second kicks off at 6 p.m. The final will be televised on ABC on Saturday at 1 p.m.