Cal Women's Gymnastics thrives and advances to the NCAA Morgantown Regional Final

The No.5 overall seed are the co-favorites next to No.4 Michigan to advance out of the Morgantown Regional

Morgantown, WV — The California Golden Bears Women’s Gymnastics team started their NCAA postseason journey on Friday afternoon in session 1 of the Morgantown Regional hosted by West Virginia University. In the women’s gymnastics bracket, a team just needs to be one of the top two of every four-team meet to advance. Three rounds of advances would put a team in the recently rebranded “Final Four” (NCAA has opted to downsize the final session from “Super Six” to “Final Four”, the change took place in 2019, the last NCAA Championship that was held).

Between Friday and Saturday, the Cal Bears are seeking to earn the program’s 3rd trip to the NCAA National Championship. The first trip came in 1992 when the format and scoring were different. The more recent trip was in 2016, just before the arrival of the current group of seniors. In the Tuscaloosa Regional, the Bears were the underdogs who had to upset Boise State to make the final 12 at the time.

This year, the No.5 seed Golden Bears are expected to advance into the 8-team National Championships with a realistic shot at making the Final Four, for the first time in program history.

Since yours truly is based out of Pittsburgh, PA, I am quite excited to travel down the Monongahela River (by car, not by boat/ferry) to the University of West Virginia to see the actions of this NCAA Regional in person both Friday afternoon and Saturday night. Given the informal nature of our blog, this is my PSA moment to say that get vaccinated if you can! I was fortunate to get my shot a few weeks ago, and it gave me such a sense of comfort to attend this event, even beyond all of the COVID safety measures to protect everyone.

You can find some of my live-tweeting this weekend on the WriteForCalLive account.

Before we get to the gymnastics, the largest banner at the WVU Coliseum is this one below, for their “National Champion Runner-Up” back in 1959.

Who defeated the West Virginia team led by Jerry West in the National Championship game? Of course, that was the Cal Bears team coached by Pete Newell, who won that game 71-70. That fact was indeed mentioned somewhere in the arena, just in a much smaller format than the huge banner.

Yes, 1959 was a Golden Year for the Golden Bears - between the lone NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in school history and also the last trip to the Rose Bowl.

In a meet with absolutely zero suspense from the Cal point-of-view, the No.5 Golden Bears posted a team score of 197.725, the second-best score of the season, en route to booking their spot in the Morgantown Regional Final on Saturday night at 4 pm PT. The Bears hit on all of their routines, although there were still several clear things to improve upon for more points, and will be joined by Ohio State who edged BYU for the second spot.

The Bears started on the beam, using the lineup of junior Milan Clausi (9.800), sophomore Nevaeh DeSouza (9.825), freshman Andi Li (9.850), senior Kyana George (9.900), junior Maya Bordas (9.950), and senior Emi Watterson (9.875). The team score of 49.400, 5th best in program history but more par for the 2021 season, immediately put the Bears well ahead of the field.

On to the floor, senior Grace Quinn led off with a 9.825. Bordas then earned a 9.850. DeSouza matched with 9.850 as well as Clausi. Giving her the edge in the all-around race over her teammates Bordas and DeSouza, Li got a 9.900. With everyone in the gym watching (this is essentially the only routine of each rotation that garner that distinction), Kyana George a 9.950 as the anchor of Cal’s floor rotation. The Golden Bears had replicated the 49.400 score from beam.

While Bordas was originally listed on the all-around, her spot in the vault was given to sophomore Natalie Sadighi who led off with a 9.850. Li followed with her 9.850 before senior Nina Schank won the event with her 9.900. George got a 9.875. DeSouza followed with a 9.850 that matched Li, her biggest competition for the All-Around. Clausi closed with a 9.775. Bears earned a team score of 49.325.

Closing the meet on Bears on Bars, the Golden Bears demonstrated how they tied the NCAA record in this event earlier this year. DeSouza started with a 9.925 to finish her All-Around Score. Li did just enough to edge her teammate for the All-Around with her 9.875. Nina Schank earned a 9.900, just like at the Pac-12 Championships when 5 Bears earned that score. Bordas took a tiny hop on the dismount for a 9.850. After senior Alma Kuc’s lone event earning a 9.925, Emi Watterson earned two 10’s out of the four judges to finish with a 9.975 — the highest score out of all of the Bears in the session.

The individual leaderboard was all Cal Bears as well. Freshman Andi Li posted the best All-Around score with a 39.475 and four different Bears atop the leaderboard for the four different apparatus. Li’s 39.475 was just a hair better than teammate Neveah DeSouza’s 39.450. Seniors Nina Schank, Emi Watterson, and Kyana George won the vault, bars, and floor, respectively. Junior Maya Bordas won the balance beam where the Golden Bears started the session.

Ohio State with a score of 196.525 edges BYU 196.350 for the second spot. BYU was able to drop their fall on the beam, but just did not score enough 9.8 or 9.9.

Session 2 in the evening determined the other two team finalists, with No.4 Michigan and No.13 UCLA being the clear favorites. Michigan started rather wobbly on the balance beam with only a 48.925 and had a fall in the first routine of the floor exercise. The Wolverine switched to another gear after that performance and absolutely dominated the rest of the way to take session 2, finishing with a score of 197.750 that would have just edged Cal’s 197.725. UCLA joined them in advancing with their score of 197.050.

When all the chalk has settled, Saturday’s Morgantown Regional Final will feature two sets of rivals: Cal and UCLA from the Pac-12 and Michigan and Ohio State from the Big 10.

By finishing 1st in session 1, Cal already knows that they will start on bars on Saturday, then the typical Olympic rotation of Beam, Floor, and then Vault. Starting on Cal’s favorite apparatus could put some scoreboard pressures on the other teams. Technically, Cal does not need to beat Michigan until the next meet, IF they both advance on Saturday. Nonetheless, both schools shared not just similar/same school colors but also the historic feats of breaking 198 team score for the first time in program history (on the same weekend, no less) will want to make a statement in this Regional Final.

Meet Preview:

On Friday, April 2nd, the No.5 California Golden Bears will seek one of two spots in Saturday night’s Regional Final against No. 12 BYU Cougars, No. 27 Ohio State Buckeyes, and No. 28 Towson Tigers in Session 1, scheduled for 10 AM PT with all the action on ESPN3.

Let’s take a closer look at the teams in his session, with the data as compiled by College Gym News.

The Cal Bears are the clear favorite out of this session with an average score above 197 that is by far better than the season-high scores of both Ohio State and Towson. In fact, from the third meet on, the Cal Bears have cleared 197.100 and their performances are really well represented by their National Qualifying Score (NQS) of 197.613. This Friday will hopefully just serve as a glorified run-through for Saturday night and allow the Bears to be more familiarized with the equipment of the West Virginia Mountaineers.

The NQS is calculated in the following way. First, only the top 6 scores of the season are considered, with half them required to be from the road. For the Cal Bears, those are the season-best home meet against UCLA (198.050), regular-season finale vs. Washington (197.600), Pac-12 Championship (197.375), at Oregon State (197.425), at Washington (197.225), and at Utah (197.125). You should not be surprised to learn that those are the most recent 6 meets out of the 9 that the Bears got to compete in this year. The NQS is the average of them without the season-high (and program history high) of 198.050.

The Cal Bears have the highest NQS in the Pac-12 both before and after the Pac-12 Championship that was won by Utah. By this NQS measurement, the Golden Bears earned the 5th overall seed in the country. Their NQS of 197.613 is just a touch behind that of No.4 Michigan and their NQS of 197.800.

Here are all the teams that will compete in Session 2 for the other two regional final berths. Michigan and No.13 UCLA are the clear favorites.

In the meantime, learn more about this fun Cal Women’s Gymnastics team.

First, check out the behind-the-scene moments on the floor with two of the Cal seniors in Emi Watterson and Alma Kuc.

You can also learn a lot about how the Cal Bears conquered all the challenges from this pandemic year from this great article by Talitha Ilacqua on College Gym News. The team and the coaches knew to not take anything for granted. This feeling of gratitude drove the team to achieve an already historic season.

Twitter avatar for @collegegymnews_College Gym News @collegegymnews_
Gratitude the Driving Force Behind Cal’s Success "We want to take the confidence that those milestones brought us, then get back in the gym and continue to improve so we can take full advantage of the next opportunity.” By @Talitha_CGN #NCAAgym Image

“‘One day better’ isn’t something that you set aside for a meet day or only on a meet day,” Crandall-Howell added. “It’s a way of thinking, so all we’re asking them ever is to try and expect ‘one day better’ in some way, shape or form in their lives and the way that they process each day. And if they can lock into that and stay committed to that mission, we’re going to see the success as a by-product for their entire lives.”

The team has also embraced the principle that each routine adds to the whole, instead of potentially taking away from the team. This way, the coaches hope to prompt their athletes to produce positive energy no matter the outcome, as opposed to fearing messing up and jeopardizing a meet. By having this perspective, Crandall-Howell said, “every single person is adding their momentum, their energy, their positivity to the performance of the whole. If we think that way, we’re going to continue to have success.”

The depth that the team possesses this year has helped the athletes adopt this mindset, as they know that whatever may happen on competition day, any gymnast can be replaced and the substitute can produce equally good results.

The Bears do expect to make the National Championships in Fort Worth with the goal of hoping to make the final four on day 2 for the first time in program history. Before they get there, the Bears will need to first conquer this Morgantown Regional.