Cal Women's Gymnastics seeks a repeat trip back to the NCAA Championships
No.9 Cal will battle No.1 Oklahoma, No.8 Minnesota, and No.18 Arkansas for two spots in the NCAA Championships
Cal Bears did it the hard way on Thursday, but the important thing is that they have survived and advanced to today’s Regional Final.
No.9 Cal Golden Bears will again battle No.8 Minnesota Golden Gophers along with host No.1 Oklahoma Sooners as well as No.18 Arkansas Razorbacks to be two of the eight teams to compete at the 2022 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas from April 14-16. Cal is seeking a return trip as a team back to the NCAA Championships, for the first time in program history.
For only the third time since the change was made first in 2019, NCAA Championships will have only the top-8 rather than the previous top-12 teams in the country as the number of collegiate women’s gymnastics programs has dwindled over the years.
NCAA Second Round Recap
Sometimes, it is good to know that you can thrive under pressure. Should the Cal Bears again be in the privileged position of having to perform under pressure to extend the season either tonight or in two weeks, they will have the confidence from having done so in Session 1 of the Norman Regional on Thursday.
With Utah State Aggies putting up a fine score behind a season-high bars rotation, Cal Bears needed a strong floor rotation to hold on to 2nd place and a berth to the Regional Final. A last-minute decision to switch the order of floor exercise may have been the culprit, but the always reliable junior Nevaeh DeSouza shockingly fell out of bounds on her first floor tumbling pass (a similar mistake for her as two meets ago at Ohio State). Bears know that they would need to hit on all five routines to follow to drop this score and advance as a team.
After senior Maya Bordas put up a solid 9.875 as the next routine. Fellow senior Milan Clausi came through with a pivotal 9.925.
Freshman Mya Lauzon was next to pick up the slack, scoring a 9.900 to keep Cal’s season alive.
Sophomore and arguably team MVP Andi Li also scored a 9.900. It all comes down to senior Grace Quinn to hit as the floor exercise anchor to save Cal’s season. In my Thursday preview, I had said said “with the season possibly on the line, I am not sure if I would trust anyone else [than Grace Quinn] more to nail her floor routine and provide a big score”. Grace came through with her 7th consecutive 9.925+ score to send the Bears to the next round of this postseason.
By brilliantly hitting on all five routines after Nevaeh’s error, Cal managed to post their best floor rotation team score (49.525) in the program’s NCAA Regional history!
Co-head coach Elizabeth Crandall-Howell spoke with the ESPN broadcast about how her team came through while facing adversities.
With a nice blend of steady upperclassmen and high-flying underclassmen, Cal is still looking for that one special meet where everything comes together. Having shaken off a slow start on Thursday (more on this later), the Golden Bears will hopefully finally fulfill their lofty potential and hit that new season-high that could also be the program-best team score on Saturday. Cal’s current program-best score of 198.050, set in 2021, could certainly be surpassed.
On Thursday, Cal started on their second-worst apparatus, the vault. Knowing that the judges will be very stingy with the score, Bears went big but had trouble sticking their landings without sliding. All of the Cal scores were between 9.75 and 9.825.
When the first rotation was over, Cal Bears found themselves in 4th place with a team score of only 48.950. The Bears will need to perform up to their ability for the rest of the meet to survive.
Setting the tone for the Bears was junior Nevaeh DeSouza who scored a 9.925 on bars. DeSouza, one of three all-arounders for the Bears along with Andi Li and Maya Bordas, had been one of the most reliable gymnasts on the team since her freshman year. Given her impeccable collegiate track record, one would think she got a better chance of winning the all-around on Saturday than making another major mistake like what happened on floor on Thursday.
Determined to return to the lineup after sitting out the Pac-12 Championships to rest her injured ankle, senior Nina Schank provided a solid 9.90 bars routine to allow Cal to leap all the way from 4th to Tied-for-2nd at the halfway point.
Moving to the balance beam for the 3rd rotation, Cal again came through by hitting on all of their routines.
Senior Maya Bordas scored a 9.90.
Andi Li also got a pivotal 9.90 for her routine.
The big beam scores gave Cal a slight cushion in 2nd place heading to the final rotation. Credit to both Boise State and Utah State for providing the pressure on the Bears through the entire meet. Both schools were able to not count any misses to achieve solid scores of 196.425 for Boise State and 196.825 for Utah State. Without much pressure on them, Minnesota was able to survive their final rotation on the beam (where they have had issues at meets this year) to win the session with a score of 197.825.
I don’t know how long this YouTube video will be up, but it currently has the full meet from Thursday. Note the chaotic nature of the meet with often four events happening simultaneously.
Norman Regional Final Comparison
While the scores will be reset on Saturday, here are the comparison of the Second Round team scores for the four teams fighting for the two spots on Saturday.
Cal - 197.325
Minnesota - 197.825
Oklahoma - 198.175
Arkansas - 196.975
Host Oklahoma had a brilliant session where they scored nearly 49.5 on all four apparatus. The Sooners got 49.550 on vault, 49.625 on bars, 49.475 on beam, and 49.525 on floor to show that they had virtually no weakness and why they had they are the top overall seed in the entire NCAA bracket.
Sooners were led by Jordan Bowers, who shared the vault lead with a 9.95 as well as a near-perfect 9.975 on bars, and another 9.95 on floor.
The top beam score at this regional came from Minnesota’s Lexy Remler with a 9.95. Remler also shared the all-around win with teammate Ona Loper with a score of 39.675.
Arkansas edged two Pac-12 schools to advance. Razorbacks’ 196.975 was just slightly better than that of Arizona (196.800), who had to survive a play-in “first round” on Wednesday, and Arizona State (196.600). Kennedy Hambrick was the top Arkansas gymnast with her All-Around score of 39.575 (three 9.90 and a 9.875 on beam).
Checking on Road to Nations for the team rankings for each apparatus, this is where the four teams stand.
Cal: Vault 12, Bars 10, Beam 8, Floor 15
Minnesota: Vault 8, Bars 7, Beam 22, Floor 2
Oklahoma: Vault 4, Bars 1, Beam 3, Floor 5
Arkansas: Vault 14, Bars 20, Beam 16, Floor 24
Cal Bears will certainly need to vault better on Saturday, which they are certainly capable of doing. Compared to Minnesota, one would also typically prefer Cal’s profile of consistency across all four apparatuses than having a clear potential pitfall on the always-tricky beam.
While it would be shocking for host Oklahoma to falter, stranger things have had happened in the postseason. If Cal can apply some scoreboard pressure on Minnesota before their beam rotation, the Golden Bears could advance over the Golden Gophers without necessarily being in their top form. More likely though, Cal will just need to perform to the peak of their ability and win another NCAA National Championship berth outright over the best from Minnesota and Arkansas.
The top two teams and the top all-around competitor (who is not on an advancing team) from each regional will receive an automatic berth to the semifinals on April 14 in Fort Worth, TX. For individual events, the scores from Thursday (2nd Round) will be used to decide who will advance to nationals. Cal has got at least one representative at the NCAA Championships for 7 straight years (not counting 2020).
Finally, we Cal fans should all be grateful that we have a real mascot like the Bear. All season long, Cal gymnasts had been able to celebrate hitting their routines by wearing a Bear head. In case you missed it, I asked Nina Schank about the origin of this ritual a couple of weeks ago.
Stanford gymnasts unfortunately have only got the tree as their mascot. While Stanford survived their first-round match and had also advanced to their regional final, the Cardinal have to resort to using a local twig to pump each other up for jobs well done. I almost feel a bit bad for them.
Cal’s Bear head >> Stanford’s Stick Stick.
NCAA Gymnastics Norman (Oklahoma) Regional Final
When: Saturday, April 2nd, 5 PM CT (6 PM ET/3 PM PT)
Who: No.1 Oklahoma, No.8 Minnesota, No.9 Cal, No.18 Arkansas
Live Stream: ESPN+
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast