Cal Men's Gymnastics at NCAA: Caleb Rickard earns 5th on vault; team eliminated in semifinals

Three Bears made the Championship finals to compete in four events

The NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championship was probably overshadowed by that of the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship on the same days this past weekend. Instead of being on ESPN2 and ABC, the men’s championship was relegated to the Big Ten Network. The same can be said about their regular seasons as the men had to compete in numerous “virtual meets” where both teams competed in their respective home gyms; the women, with more teams in the same geographical region, got to do the normal travels.

Because NCAA men’s gymnastics use the FIG Code of Points scoring which assign a difficulty score (“d-score”) and execution score (“e-score”), the skill level difference between the teams is much more pronounced. For the women’s gymnastics scoring, almost all of the gymnasts can do the combination of the skills that can early a perfect 10 point if executed perfectly. In FIG scoring, there is no limit on the d-score. In this meet, Cal’s d-scores averaging at around 4.2 meant that they were very unlikely to beat Stanford with their d-scores averaging 5.5. Between the scoring differences and how all 5 routines are counted for the team score (there are no dropped scores), it is a rather different contest than that of the women with a rather small chance of an upset win.

Nonetheless, No.11 Cal Golden Bears did make the trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota to compete in the NCAA Championship as one of the 12 teams there. While the team did not advance past the semifinal on Friday, three Cal Bears did make the championship final on Saturday.

Caleb Rickard set a new Cal record on vault to finish 5th in the country with his 14.666 score, earning All-American honor.

You can see Rickard’s vault in the embedded tweet below,

Individually on Saturday, Cal also got Yu-Chen Lee who posted a season-high 14.133 on floor exercise to finish 24th. Rickard and the CGA Rookie of the Year Noah Newfeld scored 12.200 and 11.566, respectively, on horizontal bar (also known as “high bar”) to finish 38th and 43rd in the country.

It was the first NCAA Championship for Lee and Newfeld as the Cal squad earned some valuable experiences.

Unlike the Cal women, who earned their first individual NCAA title ever when Maya Bordas won the uneven bars, Cal Men’s Gymnastics have won 4 NCAA team titles (1968, 1975, 1997, 1998) and numerous individual titles with Evan Roth’s 2009 Rings title being the most recent. Current head coach JT Okada also helped Ryan Patterson to become a “Calympian” for South Africa for the 2016 Rios game. However, Cal men’s gymnastics is not in the same upward trajectory as its women counterpart after both programs were saved from the chopping block in 2010.

Team competition on Friday: Cal posts a season-high 392.055

Without the expectation to advance out of Friday’s session 2 as a team, Cal Men’s Gymnastics achieved its goal of setting a new season-high to close its year. The Cal Bears finished 6th out of 6 teams in that session. But Cal’s team score of 392.055 ended up being the 10th best out of 12 teams that weekend.

The Bears finished behind Stanford (413.855), Michigan (411.455), Minnesota (404.623), Penn State (402.356), and Iowa (401.120) in the team competitions. What was more realistic for the Bears were the three spots in each of the 6 apparatus and all-around that go to gymnasts that are not on the three advancing teams (Stanford, Michigan, and Minnesota).

The Bears started on the rings where they scored 63.264 with 12.866 being the highs from Jelani Sweet and Savion Perea. Lee had the team-high difficulty of 4.7 but obviously did not execute as well as his teammates.

The Bears next moved on to vault where they earned 69.965, beating Penn State. Caleb Rickard’s 14.300 earned him a spot for this event on Saturday. Rickard and Abe shared a team-high difficulty of 5.2 with Abe earning a 13.966.

The Bears posted a 64.098 in their third rotation on parallel bars. Newfeld’s 13.266 led the way.

On the high bar, Cal scored a 63.531 since they had to count a 11+ score. Bears do have two good scores to send Rickard (13.233) and Newfeld (13.166) to Saturday in this event.

On floor exercise, Cal scored 69.095 to beat Minnesota. Four Bears set new personal best, including 13.966 from Lee, who also had the team-high 5.1 difficulty.

In the final rotation, Darren Wong finally made an appearance this season. The junior advanced to the NCAA All-Around final as a freshman but this event was his lone appearance at this meet. Wong also did not compete at the MPSF Championship (nor possibly any other competitions this year before Friday). Wong only posted a 11+ score but will hopefully regain his form next year.

Cal closed their season with a 62.131 on the pommel horse.

When the last routine of the busy meet was done on Saturday night, the Stanford Cardinal were victorious with their second consecutive team title.

The following are the final team scores and the individual apparatus champions:

Team standings

1. Stanford — 414.521

2. Oklahoma — 411.591

3. Michigan — 410.358

4. Nebraska — 406.624

5. Minnesota — 406.291

6. Illinois — 397.991

Floor: Gage Dyer, Oklahoma, 15.266

Pommel: Ian Sirkey, Illinois, 14.166

Rings: Shane Wiskus, Minnesota, 14.400

Vault: Gage Dyer, Oklahoma, 15.033

P Bars: Shane Wiskus, Minnesota, 14.433

H Bar: Brody Malone, Stanford, 14.466

All-Around: Brody Malone, Stanford, 85.064

You can scroll up to compare to Cal’s top scores to see how far the Golden Bears still need to go to become national championships contenders.

Hopefully, the Cal Bears will be able to return to their past prominence in men’s gymnastics at some point. This 2021 season did see the Bears maintain their spot as that 9th-12th best team. That is still an achievement considering the context of this season and how the program incurred little to no travel expenses in “competing from home (gym)” in this pandemic season.