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Cal Women's Gymnastics survives and advances to Norman Regional Final on Saturday
Golden Bears and the Golden Gophers of Minnesota advance out of Norman Region Session 1
Phew! Cal overcame a slow start on vault and a rare mistake by junior Nevaeh DeSouza leading off floor exercise rotation to advance to Saturday’s Norman Regional Final.
More on this meet in my Saturday morning post.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!
Can No.9 Cal Women’s Gymnastics make more program history this weekend by advancing to the NCAA Championships in consecutive seasons as one of only eight teams for the first time in program history? That answer will not be known until Saturday night, but the Cal Bears will first need to advance past the NCAA Second Round on Thursday.
Coming off a second place finish at the Pac-12 Championships where they posted their best road score in a hostile (noisy as in people cheering loudly at other simultaneous events rather than gymnastics fans being intentionally mean) environment, Cal Bears will compete in the Norman, Oklahoma Regional. Only two teams can advance out of the region to make it to the NCAA Championships, again hosted in Fort Worth, Texas in two weeks on April 14-16. Host and top overall seed Oklahoma will likely take one spot. The other berth will likely go to either No.8 Minnesota or No.9 Cal.
Check out the embedded video below which includes interviews with Cal seniors Grace Quinn, Maya Bordas, Milan Clausi, and freshmen Maddie Williams and Mya Lauzon. They talked about the Pac-12 Championships, what they expect at the Regional, and reminisce about this season thus far.
Barring a major surprise, Cal should have no problem advancing to Saturday evening’s Regional Final. In today’s “Second Round” action (NCAA decreased the Women’s Gymnastics field recently but added a play-in “First Round”), No.9 Cal will battle No. 8 Minnesota, No. 24 Boise State, and No. 25 Utah State where the top-2 will advance.
Under Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell, who took over the program soon after it was saved from the chopping block in 2010, Cal is making their 10th consecutive trip to the NCAA Regional (counting the COVID year in 2020 as a season when the Bears were ranked high enough to guarantee a spot) and the 26th overall in program history. Furthermore, this is the seventh-straight season that Cal has been in the top 16 of the National Qualifying Score (NQS) and the third straight year that the Bears have posted an NQS above 197.00.
Cal’s Second Round Opponents Comparison
Even with all the judgment calls on scoring in gymnastics, the NQS is a good first place to look to compare the teams. Road to the Nations, which I will lean on heavily for this preview, has conveniently archived the team scores, rotation scores, and even individual scores for all collegiate gymnasts this season.
Minnesota’s NQS of 197.440 is slightly better than that of Cal’s of 197.330. Minnesota also has a slightly higher season high of 198.025 to Cal’s 197.900. Boise State has an NQS of 196.560 with a season-high of 197.000. Utah State has an NQS of 196.550 with a season-high of 197.025.
Like all teams, Minnesota is much better at home than on the road. They did post a 197.850 at Utah in a meet that had some remarkably high scoring with Utah getting a 198.575 where Grace McCallum got two 10.0’s. The rest of Minnesota’s road scores were below 197 except for a 197.125 at Illinois; in their most recent meet, the Big 10 Championships hosted by Ohio State (where Cal had also recently competed), Minnesota only scored 196.725.
By comparison, Cal is coming off a 197.425 at the Pac-12 Championships. If you believe in “momentum” in sports, the Bears are in better shape.
Second Round Matchup Comparison by Apparatus Rankings:
Vault: 12th; Bars: 10th; Beam: 8th; Floor: 15th
Vault: 8th; Bars: 7th; Beam: 22nd; Floor: 2nd
Vault: 26th; Bars: 7th; Beam: 34th; Floor: 49th
Vault: 37th; Bars: 28th; Beam: 14th; Floor: 21st
Minnesota has a clear Achilles’ heel on the balance beam, which could be problematic on the road under the intense pressure of the postseason. The Golden Gophers’ floor dominance is buoyed by the performances such as the viral routine of Mya Hooten set to Beyonce’s Homecoming.
Boise State is surprisingly great on the uneven bars. Emily Muhlenhaupt was named a WCGA Regular Season First Team All-American on bars for the third consecutive season. Utah State has a notable freshman in Brie Clark who is a WCGA Regular Season Second Team All-American on floor.
2022 California Golden Bears
There could be a little bit of surprise about who will be in Cal’s lineup for Thursday. Golden Bears could possibly try to reintegrate some routines back from previously injured gymnasts. If Cal might try something different for Saturday (even if it is a bit presumptuous to count on advancing), it will likely first be experimented on Thursday.
Andi Li was kept out of the all around by not vaulting at the Pac-12 due to an ankle injury suffered at the UCLA meet. She should be back to her regular all around load this weekend as the arguably the top gymnast on the team.
In 2022, Andi Li has been Cal’s most consistent scorer of 9.90 and above.
Another lineup regular for Cal is Nevaeh DeSouza, the only gymnast to compete in every rotation for the Bears this year.
Other than the Ohio State meet where she landed out-of-bounds on her floor exercise, DeSouza is virtually a lock to score 9.85+ on all four routines.
Maya Bordas, Cal’s first NCAA champ for her win on uneven bars last year, will look to close out her brilliant collegiate career (although she has another year of eligibility, the soon-to-be Haas graduate also apparently got a job lined up with Deloitte) with another trip back to her home state of Texas.
Bordas is coming off a Pac-12 Championship where she struggled on her first two routines before recovering. She is certainly capable of a 10 on bars, but also on beam and floor since she has got 9.95 on both this year.
A rotation mainstay since her freshman year on beam, vault, and floor, Milan Clausi’s routines stand out for having unique flairs. Clausi is one of only two Cal Bears with a starting value of 10 on vault (the rest only got a 9.95 vault).
Other than missing two meets earlier this season, Clausi is one of the most consistent Bears. She made the NCAA in 2019 by winning vault at the Regional.
Although she only has one routine per meet, Grace Quinn has raised her level in her senior year for her high power floor routine.
After a hiccup to start the year, you can pencil in Grace for at least a 9.925. She has served as the anchor of Cal’s floor rotation. With the season possibly on the line, I am not sure if I would trust anyone else on this Cal team more to nail her floor routine and provide a big score.
Nina Schank missed the Pac-12 Championships with a bad ankle. When she has been the lineup this year, the previous specialists had even done one all around. If she’s ready to go, expect to see Schank on bars, vault, and possibly floor.
It is no secret that Cal is bringing in better talent every year as the program becomes a national title contender. While this will be the first year of the NCAA postseason for these next three, they are all very capable of putting up big numbers under pressure.
Maddie Williams has been great on bars since her first meet. Gradually, she has also earned her spot in the beam and vault lineups.
While Williams possibly succumbed to pressure in the ASU meet (when Cal was on the verge of an outright Pac-12 regular season title), the freshman has rebounded nicely since. I would put Williams in a rather large group of Cal Bears capable of winning bars and/or beam in any meet.
Mya Lauzon was the other freshman to crack the Cal lineup before missing some time due to either illness and/or injury. With the Bears shorthanded for the Pac-12 Championships, Lauzon came up huge on beam but also bars. I expect to see Lauzon on beam, but cede the bars spot back to Schank.
While Gabby Perea is a sophomore, she did not compete (only did exhibitions) last year due to injury. Perea has been solid on bars (9.85+ on 5/7 routines) and had filled in on floor as well.
Finally, Cal does have two more 5th-years who were probably expecting bigger roles on the team when they chose to return. It would be a storybook ending to their collegiate career for them to step up in the most important meets of the season to send the Bears back to the NCAA Championships.
Consistency has eluded 5th-year Emi Watterson this year. The Australian native also had her offseason training interrupted tragicly by the passing of her father. Although Watterson scored a 10 on bars last year, she had only competed on beam this year.
After a brilliant and emotional belated season debut, Watterson could not replicate what Quinn has done as the senior anchor of a rotation. Emi did get a beam exhibition on Senior Day, but hitting on only about 50% of her beam routines this year has cost her place in the rotation lineup.
Kyana George has been a star for this team for the past four years. The 5th-year senior suffered an Achilles injury in the offseason. While many thought she was done for the year, George rehabbed hard to do exhibitions on both beam (at the UCLA meet) and floor (to cap Senior Day at Haas). Could she make her competitive debut this weekend? If she does return to beam (where there is a move named after her), George might bump Bordas from doing the all around.
NCAA Gymnastics Second Round (Norman, Oklahoma)
When: Thursday, March 31st, 1 PM CT (2 PM ET/11 AM PT)
Who: No.8 Minnesota, No.9 Cal, No.24 Boise State, No.25 Utah State
Live Stream: ESPN+
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast