After a historic season, Cal W. Gymnastics will have three key seniors returning for 2022

Kyana George, Emi Watterson, and Nina Schank will be back for their 5th seasons

The arguably best Cal Athletic story of the 2020-21 school year just might have an even better sequel in 2022.

Cal Women’s Gymnastics set a very high bar in their 2021 campaign when the team both won its first NCAA individual championship (Maya Bordas on the uneven bars) and became the 5th ranked team in the country. The “one day better” motto of the program means that the 2022 goals are to make the NCAA Championship Final Four on the Floor if not win the program’s first NCAA team national championship. These goals (or dreams) feel a lot more achievable with the announcements last week that Cal will get back three key seniors, who despite finishing their Cal degrees last week will return to Berkeley for another year of gymnastics, thanks to the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to all student-athletes for this past pandemic season.

Due to Cal’s improved lineup (which should get even better with both internal improvements, the return of Talitha Jones from her ACL injury suffered in 2019, and talented new freshmen), Kyana George ceded her title as Cal’s top all-around gymnast in 2021. Nonetheless, George was a steady source of 9.85+ on floor, beam, and vault. More appropriately, Cal fans will get to give a proper send-off next spring to one of the best gymnasts in the history of the program.

Capturing national attention for her perfection on the uneven bars (while wearing a mask) in Cal’s historic meet against UCLA, Emi Watterson will also be back to provide 9.9s on both the uneven bars and the balance beam. The Australian native did not have a good bars routine at the NCAA Championships, though she did finish strong on the beam and earned All-American honor there. She will hopefully have a stronger finish to her 5th season next year.

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Also back is Nina Schank, a regular on vault and bars (but also capable of producing a 9.875 floor exercise (like in Cal’s regular-season finale). If you watch Cal’s preparations before most routines, you will see Schank giving one-on-one pep talks and/or advice to her teammates before their vault or bar routines. One of Schank’s teammates who benefited from this was Maya Bordas, who ended up winning Cal’s first NCAA individual title.

With the three gymnasts back, Cal will lose just one routine from the regular lineup of their 2021 post-season run as Alma Kuc and her steady 9.9 on the uneven bars (which earned her an All-American honor at the NCAA) have graduated.

Cal will add 5 new gymnasts to the already loaded squad for 2022.

2021 was considered a wide-open year in collegiate women’s gymnastics with Michigan being the surprise champion in the end. Even if all of the other top teams reloaded in similar fashions, Cal has got to be one of the dark-horse favorites in 2021 both for the Pac-12 title over Utah and for the NCAA Championship.

Other Cal Olympic sports seniors who have already confirmed a return to Cal next school year include Mima Mirkovic in both Indoor and Beach Volleyball, Julia Rosenqvist in Women’s Tennis, as well as Emily Smith (already drafted by the NWSL) and Emma Westin in Women’s Soccer (where they only need to return for the fall semester).

I also would not rule out several of the Cal Men’s Swimming seniors to potentially return next year as well, depending on how they fare at the USA Swimming Olympic Trials next month. The swimmers might cash in on their rare Olympic endorsement opportunities if they qualify for the Tokyo Game (also assuming that the Olympics is not canceled, of course), but return for a 5th year if they fell short. This is just my own speculation (unlike my previous “report” that Cal was working on getting their gymnasts back from chatting with the coaches).