Championships weekend: Men's Water Polo at NCAA & Women's Gymnastics at Pac-12

Golden Bears seek to make history (W. Gymnastics at Pac-12) and extend their historic lead (M. Water Polo at NCAA) this weekend

In addition to being a major player at the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships (which you can follow here) Cal Athletics will also look to make some history in a couple of other championships this weekend.

Cal Men’s Water Polo goes for NCAA Title #15

NCAA Semifinal:

Cal vs. USC

Saturday, March 20th at 5 pm PDT

NCAA Final:

Cal/USC vs. Stanford/UCLA

Sunday, March 21st at 2 pm PDT

Online Stream:

From Los Angeles this weekend, Cal Men’s Water Polo will seek to extend the program’s dominance in this particular NCAA Championships. Already ahead of the rest in NCAA Men’s Water Polo championship titles, the 2nd-seed California Golden Bears are contenders for a 15th championship. USC’s home pool, Uytengsu Aquatics Center, replaced Stanford as the host of this championship. Conveniently, this was also the pool where the Golden Bears had a perfect 3-0 weekend earlier this year, including victories over UCLA, USC, and Stanford.

After a runner-up finish at the MPSF tournament, Cal will play USC in the semifinal on Saturday at 5 pm PT. Stanford will play UCLA in the other semifinal which will start at 2 pm PT. The NCAA will stream the semifinals and final matches live (no subscriptions necessary).

In the first round on Thursday, the Water Polo bluebloods won as USC defeated Bucknell 18-9 and UCLA defeated Cal Baptist 19-14. This set up an unprecedented final four of Cal, Stanford, USC, and UCLA - the four most successful men’s water polo programs in collegiate history. Due to the decision to not play this season made by a couple of men’s water polo conferences, all 4 of these Pac-12 California schools are in the NCAA Championships field; in a normal year, there are only enough at-large bids for three of the four schools. Coincidentally, the Cal Bears have only played these three schools this year in the delayed and shortened schedule.

Cal has defeated USC Trojans four times in five tries. Cal has beaten UCLA Bruins three times in four tries. Stanford, the defending champs from all the way back in 2019 when they had some key players who have since left, had beaten the Golden Bears twice in three tries.

I have already written about this year’s team in my MPSF tournament preview. Cal earned a few more awards from the MPSF tournament since.

The Golden Bears just need to capitalize on their man-advantage opportunities to not waste another three-goal lead on Stanford, like at the MPSF final.

I hope to write more about Cal men’s water polo in my semifinal recap/championship preview on Saturday night.

Cal Women’s Gymnastics go for Pac-12 title #1

Pac-12 Women’s Gymnastics Championship

Session 2: Cal vs. Utah vs. Arizona vs. UCLA

Saturday, March 20th at 6 pm PDT

TV: Pac-12 Network

With both youth and experience as well as talents throughout the entire roster, Cal Women’s Gymnastics will enter the 2021 Pac-12 Championships as the top overall seed. Thanks to their fantasy results in their last 3 meets, a record-breaking win over UCLA in addition to two wins over Washington, the Cal Bears have surpassed the Utah Red Rocks (FYI, that is the nickname for the Utah women’s gymnastics team) in the National Qualifying Score.

After experimenting with different lineups all season long because the Cal Bears have so much talent and depth, the co-head coaches Howells may have settled on the winning formula, especially after the return of senior Alma Kuc back from her elbow injury. Earlier in the season for a meet on the Pac-12 Networks, Elisabeth Crandall-Howell said that she only locked in on a lineup after seeing the warmups. That may or may not be true anymore.

The Cal Bears have mostly decided on using sophomore Naveah DeSouza, the reigning Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year, freshman Andi Li, a potential to be this year’s Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year, and sometimes junior Maya Bordas as all-around competitors.

Competing in all-around for the bulk of her collegiate career, senior Kyana George has ceded her uneven bars spot to Alma Kuc. George is still fantastic in the other three events, particularly the beam where she has a skill named after her. But Kuc has consistently earned 9.9 or better score on the bars. Cal’s top-ranked bars team also includes senior Emi Watterson, who earned a perfect 10 in that UCLA meet, and fellow senior Nina Schank as regulars.

Junior Milan Clausi serves as the leadoff for the Bears on the balance beam. Watterson also gets a beam routine.

On vault, Schank and Clausi join the three all-arounders and George. In the most recent meet, Cal gave Bordas’ vault spot to sophomore Natalie Sadighi to set the 5th best score in program history.

Grace Quinn has been the reliable leadoff in her floor exercise where she consistently earned 9.9 or better scores. Interestingly, Schank got the routine on Seniors Day and the Golden Bears actually set the program history high team score there.

The Golden Bears will attempt to avenge their lone loss on the season at Utah this Saturday night from Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah in session 2. The second session pits the better four Pac-12 schools (8 of them have a women’s gymnastics program) against one another.

Despite all the historically high scores whether it is the team score or rotation score, the Golden Bears know that they can be even better if/when they clean up a few clear deductions. The program has never been more confident, and that decision to cut the program along with Baseball, Rugby, etc. felt like ancient history. Expect more Cal women’s gymnastics history to be made this weekend and at the NCAA Regionals, and hopefully beyond to the NCAA Championships.

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