Cal Women's Gymnastics take 2nd at the Pac-12 Championships
No.9 Cal are in the NCAA Norman, Oklahoma Regional in 1.5 weeks with No.1 Oklahoma, No.8 Minnesota, and No.15 Arizona State
Cal Women’s Gymnastics achieved their best road score of the season as well as the best score ever at the Pac-12 Championship on Saturday. By improving their National Qualifying Score (NQS), Cal moves up one spot to become the 9th seed in the NCAA bracket that was revealed on Tuesday afternoon.
The Golden Bears will next head to Norman, Oklahoma for the NCAA Regional next weekend. 9th seed Cal will first have to be one of the top two teams out of the group with 8th seed Minnesota, Boise State, and Utah State on March 30th. Then on April 2nd, the Bears will need to grab one of two spots to again advance to the NCAA Championships as a team. The teams in the other half of the Norman Regional are top-seed and host Oklahoma, 15th seed Arizona State, Arkansas, Arizona, and West Virginia (there will be a play-in meet between Arizona and West Virginia). Minnesota’s season-high this year of 198.025 is slightly better than Cal’s season-high of 197.900.
Cal will look to make it to the NCAA Championships as a team in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history. Cal has qualified for the NCAA Regional for the 10th consecutive season, all under the guidance of co-head coaches Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell.
Although the Maverik Center near Salt Lake City, Utah is not the normal home of the Utah Red Rocks, the partisan crowd cheered Utah to their 3rd consecutive Pac-12 Championship title with a final team score of 198.00. Cal took 2nd with an impressive score of 197.425. Oregon State was 3rd with 197.250. UCLA, from the morning session, was 4th with 196.950. Arizona State was 5th with 196.675. Washington, Arizona, and Stanford placed in this order for the rest of the field. By the way, all 8 Pac-12 teams have qualified for the NCAA Regional this year.
Check out the highlights in the embedded Tweet below:
The Cal Bears were slightly short-handed for this meet. 5th-year senior Nina Schank, who chatted with me last week and generally competed in three events, was held out of this meet due to a minor ankle injury. Andi Li, who rolled her ankle on her floor exercise at the UCLA meet two weeks ago, returned to almost a full schedule (she took some events off in the two meets last week) but still did not do vault. As a result, Cal had to rely more on their underclassmen or less experienced gymnasts than usual.
At the Pac-12 Championships, Cal started on the uneven bars. Sophomore Gabby Perea led off with a 9.875.
Freshman Maddie Williams added a 9.925.
That 9.925 was matched by Andi Li. Both Cal gymnasts ended up earning a tie for second place behind only Utah’s Grace McCallum, who got a perfect 10.
After Cal’s defending NCAA champ on bars, Maya Bordas, had to fight through a mistake to minimize deductions, freshman Mya Lauzon came through with a 9.850 to allow the Bears to drop the 9.725.
The Bears were in a very good position of 49.425 at the end of the first rotation, trailing only by 0.025 to Oregon State.
Moving on to the balance beam for their second rotation, Cal gymnasts had to deal with all the extra crowd noises for Utah Red Rock’s great uneven bars rotation (49.550 including the previously mentioned 10).
Neveah DeSouza had a solid leadoff routine that earned 9.850. Hometown star Milan Clausi scored a 9.90.
Maddie Williams and Andi Li got 9.850 and 9.875, respectively, around a balance checks-plagued routine from Bordas.
Coming through on the anchor spot again was freshman Mya Lauzon, who matched Clausi for the team-high with a 9.90.
The Bears found themselves tied for 2nd at the halfway point of this meet.
Coming off their historic best rotation on floor in that Iowa meet last Sunday, the Bears again put up a strong rotation.
Gabby Perea had a solid 9.750 to start things off. Neveah DeSouza followed with a 9.850. Milan Clausi matched that with her own 9.850 routine.
Shaking off two shaky routines from earlier, Bordas rebounded with a 9.875 score on floor. Maya had told me that she was most looking forward to the floor routine in front of a large crowd.
Making a late push to try to catch Utah, Cal got a 9.900 from Andi Li, who was back on the floor for the first time since her injury (on that routine, Li actually just powered through the rest of her routine after a very awkward landing on her ankle).
Saving the best for last, senior Grace Quinn hit on her lone routine of the night and got a 9.925 as the anchor. Quinn earned 3rd place on floor exercise with this score.
While Cal was on floor, Utah was on beam. In a reverse of most situations, Utah’s great beam rotation (49.650) was causing loud crowd reactions that the Cal gymnasts on the floor had to ignore at times.
After three rotations, Cal is firmly entrenched in 2nd place. They would need Utah to have two bad floor routines to have a chance.
On to vault, where Cal had to call on two seldomly used gymnasts in junior Natalie Sadighi (who did get to compete in this event at the NCAA Regional last year) and senior Abi Solari as the anchor.
All of the Bears hit on their vault to earn 9.80+ score.
Tallying up all the scores, the Golden Bears earned a solid 197.425 team score to mark a new program-high at the Pac-12 Championships over last year’s 197.375. Of course, the Bears are capable of more and will likely need to improve a bit to make it back to the NCAA Championships.
The medalists for the Cal Bears are freshman Maddie Williams and sophomore Andi Li sharing the Silver on uneven bars and senior Grace Quinn taking home the Bronze on floor exercise.
Co-head coach Justin Howell got nothing but praises for his team, particularly the less experienced Bears who stepped up.
"I can't say enough about our freshmen, Mya and Maddie; competing in this environment watching them on beam," Howell said. "It didn't shake them, they were completely unfazed. Mya Lauzon anchored us again on beam, and that was a rockstar performance."
"I was really proud of Natalie Sadighi stepping in and leading us off on vault," Howell said. "I was proud of Abi (Solari) anchoring us and continuing to improve on that event. We were without three people who are in our normal vault lineup. It was an opportunity for us to test our depth and I thought they vaulted lights out."
It would be interesting to see the Cal lineups for the NCAA Regional. In addition to Andi Li back to doing the all-around and Nina Schank back for 2-3 events, 5th-year senior Kyana George might be available for either the beam or the floor after doing exhibitions of both after coming back from an offseason Achilles injury.