As the saying goes, it is easier to take risks when there is nothing to lose.
Ranked No. 10 out of the 12 qualified teams, the Cal men’s gymnastics team has nothing to lose as they fly out to Pennsylvania for the final meet of the season: the NCAA Championships.
There, the Bears will be competing against No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 Penn State, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 11 Springfield for a ticket to the second day of the national championships.
The pre-qualifying round is split into two sessions with six teams each, and the top three teams from each session will advance to day two of the championships, and for individual events, the top three gymnasts not from a qualifying team will also advance to the final session.
Cal will need to post its best performances if it wants to squeeze past its higher ranked opponents and make it to the final day as a team.
“All of our focus (at practice) was just keeping our execution score as high as possible,” said senior Noah Sano. “So for every routine we did, we made sure to mitigate all these small deductions and hit the best routine possible.”
Although a senior, this will be Sano’s first NCAA Championships. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled his freshman season, and he was held back from competing in subsequent years due to injury struggles. After finally having a generally smooth season, he is ready to take the national stage for the first time as a collegiate athlete.
Sano will be competing in three events — pommel horse, still rings and parallel bars — and he must keep his cool if he wants to hit his routines and bring his team closer to qualification.
The rest of Cal’s lineup is stacked with newcomers and veterans alike. Freshmen Khalen Curry and Theodor Gadderud will be looking to perfect their routines and boost Cal’s overall score. Sophomore Tyler Shimizu recently came back from an injury and is ready to showcase his full potential this weekend. Junior team captain Noah Newfeld is currently the Bears’ highest ranked individual gymnast, coming in No. 15 for still rings and No. 16 for parallel bars, and hopes are high for him to make it to the final day, even if the rest of the team doesn’t.
The blue and gold have tended to let their nerves get the best of them at the bigger meets of the season, and the NCAA Championships will be the biggest meet of all. For senior Will Lavanakul, this meet will mark the end of his college career. After faltering in his routine at the MPSF Championships, he will have to put up his best efforts to end his time at Cal with no regrets.
“He’s graduating, so I really want him to hit the best routine possible,” said Sano. “And I definitely think he has potential to be one of the top pommel horse guys in the nation.”
The Bears began this season off strongly but soon encountered a number of challenges that tested the depth of their lineups. However, after weeks of making adjustments and improvements, they are confident that they have the best lineup they can offer with their current roster.
The blue and gold will need to keep their spirits high and nerves controlled to make the most of this final chance to prove themselves this season.
“There are some worries and doubts in me, competing in a big stage like this,” said Sano. “I’m just going to focus on the goals that I had: to make day two and just putting everything out there.”