As the Cal men’s gymnastics team walked into Penn State’s Rec Hall last weekend for the season finale of the NCAA championships, it didn’t feel nervous. In fact, it felt confident. But after a whole season of nonstop training, defeated obstacles and broken records, confidence would only be natural.
Although Cal didn’t qualify as a team for the final round, it still finished with a solid overall score of 395.055, simultaneously setting multiple new personal records and qualifying seven Bears to the final for the second straight year. Among these stellar athletes — each of whom landed in the top three scores of all non-automatic individual qualifiers — are junior Noah Newfeld and sophomore Tyler Shimizu. Both competed in the all-around and qualified with impressive scores of 77.797 and 79.531, respectively.
Junior Chris Scales posted a qualifying PR of 13.500 on rings, freshman Theodor Gadderud secured his place on floor with a personal best score of 13.866 and 14.400 PR on vault, and senior Noah Sano excelled on parallel bars with a team-leading 13.866.
A significant highlight of the competition was the pommel horse event. With a combined score of 66.731, the third-highest in modern program history, this group has very clearly been the best pommel horse lineup for Cal to date. It couldn’t have been done without junior Aidan Li’s career-high score of 14.333, which qualified him for the final while also moving him up to rank No. 2 on the program scoring list, his fifth entry in Cal’s top-10 scores. Another consistent pommel star senior Will Lavanakul also reached the final with a score of 13.666.
All in all, Cal recorded eight personal bests in just the NCAA qualifiers, four of which belonged to Shimizu. Besides his all-around score, the sophomore scored an impressive 13.966 on floor, 13.333 on vault and 13.433 on bars, solidifying himself as an asset to the Bears’ ongoing lineup.
“I wasn’t proud of any of my personal bests headed into the NCAA’s because I knew I could do better, I just hadn’t had the opportunity to show it,” Shimizu said. As a result, his main goal heading into the meet was to have “more consistency. I jumped into all-around relatively quickly this season, so I had a lot of misses throughout the year and being more consistent in my performance allowed me to keep improving my scores throughout the year.”
After he’d accomplished such consistency in his first day goal of qualifying for finals, though, Shimizu was able to feel more confident heading into the finals round.
“I just feel like the work I put in finally paid off, like I’d get the scores I’d get in practice,” Shimizu said. “I felt like I had a little more pressure going into the first day because as a freshman I made a final, so I felt the pressure going into it wanting to prove myself again. But once I made it in, I could just be myself, have fun, and enjoy the moment,” because “I knew the results and performance would follow.”
They certainly did follow, as both Shimizu and Newfeld reached new personal bests on Saturday despite having just competed in six events the day before. Setting new career highs on vault (13.766), all-around (79.398) and rings (13.400), Shimizu not only accomplished huge personal wins but set an example for his team to follow. Meanwhile, Newfeld’s newest floor score of 14.166 surpassed any other Cal performance all weekend, and Sano set a new personal best on parallel bars with a score of 14.000.
Although Stanford ended up taking home the trophy for the fourth straight year with a score of 422.458, the Bears saw a victory of their very own. With such widespread individual excellence after a tumultuous season, the Cal men’s gymnastics team couldn’t have felt prouder of itself.
“We hit one of our highest scores in NC’s, everyone tried their hardest and did their best, and we picked each other up from mistakes,” said Shimizu. “We showed that we were capable of climbing our way back up from adversity and that we could reach a level of consistency in our performance despite it all.”