Cal Women's Gymnastics earns historic 2nd-best team score ahead of Pac-12 Championships
Maya Bordas and Nina Schank chatted with WFC
Two weeks ago, Cal Women’s Gymnastics celebrated the first Pac-12 title, regular season or championship, in program history. The Golden Bears then had a busy week with two meets on the same weekend, in different parts of the country. Cal competed at Ohio State on Friday in a tri-meet along with Pitt. Then, Cal hosted Iowa on Sunday where they also celebrated the 8 Seniors on the team.
The Cal Bears will look to make more history today when they compete in a fairly wide-open Pac-12 Championships where any of 5 schools could win.
I was able to see this year’s Cal team in person for the first time at The Ohio State meet. I then was able to get some insights directly from speaking separately with two of the senior leaders on the team: Maya Bordas and Nina Schank.
Maya Bordas made history last spring when she became the first Cal Women’s Gymnast to become a national champion, winning the uneven bars event with a near-perfect score of 9.95. More than just a bars specialist, Bordas recently set a career-high all-around score of 39.600 in Cal’s latest meet, good for 5th best in Cal history [more on this meet later].
One of the three 5th-year seniors to return for another campaign, Nina Schank had to step up from just being a bars/vault specialist to compete in all-around, including that pivotal win over Utah.
On this season:
Cal came close to making the very last session of the year in 2021. In fact, had the NCAA not downgraded their women’s gymnastics field and cut the last session from 6 teams to just 4, Cal could have made even more history last year.
"[This year], our team got an extra boost of confidence from the seasons before,” Maya Bordas said. “We are more confident in our skills and that really helps when you go out there [competing] and in our training. [That helps us] perform to our best abilities.”
With all but one routine from last year’s long postseason run returning and a group of talented freshmen entering, Cal appeared to be in great shape on paper. However, one of the 5th-year returnees, Kyana George hurt her Achilles in the offseason. She made the long road back to do an exhibition on beam at UCLA and an emotional one on floor to close out Senior Day last Sunday. Cal also missed Emi Watterson at the beginning of the year because of the death of her father. Senior Milan Clausi then missed two weeks of key Pac-12 action due to an illness.
"Overall, I am really proud of the team this season,” Nina Schank said. “It's been gritty. It has not always been easy. But every single meet, we have gotten better. I am just really proud of how hard this team has worked, and it has shown in our [results], culminating with the regular season Pac-12 championship. It's something that we have never done before. So that's something really to celebrate and be proud of.”
I asked Nina specifically about her unexpected larger role on the team this season. “It's the 5th year that I have been on the team,” Schank said. “I have done more and more gymnastics every season. I was joking with Justin when I decided to come back for a 5th year that I am going to retire floor and beam. And here I am, doing all-around, or just three events.”
“We definitely had some times when we miss people due to injuries, COVID, whatever. But we also have people step up and step in when they are needed. And the transition is relatively seamless. Being adaptable is really important for this team. When we lose someone who does three events in a meet, there is always someone able to step in. I'm really proud of this team and everyone who stepped up this year.”
The best is yet to come for the Cal Bears this season.
“I think we still have room for growth,” said Bordas. “I would not say that it's our best, even in the meets [with the best scores], we still have areas where we can improve. So that's always very exciting.”
“I think that's very cool to be able to say that even when we have a very good meet, like the Senior meet with [team score of] 197.900. There were still moments in the meet when we all thought we could do better and get 198+. It's all just a matter of putting all the pieces together.”
My burning question coming into the interviews:
If you have watched some of Cal’s meets this year, it is hard to miss a new sideline addition this season. Whenever a Cal Bear hit on her routine, she gets to wear and celebrate wearing a Bear’s head. The Bear, nameless for now, does travel with the team and should be making appearances in Utah today and wherever the Bears go for NCAA Regional this year.
The guy who did the commentaries for the Cal stream also got to wear that head after a job well done.
According to Schank, “It kind of started as a joke. Last year when we didn't have fans, we brought signs and pompoms [to the sidelines of meets]. Then in our first meet, we didn't bring any of that [because the fans have returned this year]. But [the props] brought a lot of energy last year. Natalie [Sadighi] on the team, her boyfriend has this bear costume. She brought this bear head to a meet for fun.
Every time when someone finishes a routine, you've got to wear the bear head! Now it's a staple of our competitions. It's part of our travel, and we bring it everywhere with us. It's unique to us. Other teams have their things, [Cal] has the bear head!”
On Pac-12 Championships (today, Saturday, March 19th from Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah):
There are some changes made to the Pac-12 Championships this year, mainly to emulate the NCAA Championships.
“[In the past] Pac-12 goes one-at-a-time,” Nina Schank said. “But this year, they changed the format to ‘shotgun’. It's cool that it's the same thing when we went to Ohio, even though that was just three teams. That was a good prep for us. We stay in what we called ‘Bear Bubble’. Just staying locked into the event and the [Cal] person competing.”
“Personally, I prefer this [format] because we don't have to wait around as much,” said Maya Bordas. “My body feels warmer. It's a different environment that [requires adjustments], but one that we are definitely used to and prepared for. I am excited [for this new] dynamics.”
As an expert on the artistry and performance part of collegiate gymnastics, Bordas does enjoy the larger stage that is the Pac-12 Championships. “It is the Pac-12 Championships. There is always a great crowd, so I'm looking forward to that. The energy of the crowd to pump you and your team up."
No.10 Cal (7-2, 5-2 in Pac-12) will be in the evening session (5 pm PT) with the rest of the co-Pac-12 Champions in No.4 Utah, No.13 Oregon State, and No.14 Arizona State. The earlier session (12 pm PT) will have No.18 UCLA along with Stanford, Arizona, and Washington.
2022 Pac-12 Women’s Gymnastics on Pac-12 Networks Schedule (subject to change)
Saturday, March 19
Session #1 - No. 18 UCLA, Arizona, Stanford and Washington
12 p.m. PT / 1 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network and the Pac-12 Now app
On the call: Jim Watson and Amanda Borden
Live Beam Stream
12 p.m. PT / 1 p.m. MT on Pac-12.com/wgymchamps/beam and the Pac-12 Now app
Live Floor Stream
12 p.m. PT / 1 p.m. MT on Pac-12.com/wgymchamps/floor and the Pac-12 Now app
Live Uneven Bars Stream
12 p.m. PT / 1 p.m. MT on Pac-12.com/wgymchamps/unevenbars and the Pac-12 Now app
Live Vault Stream
12 p.m. PT / 1 p.m. MT on Pac-12.com/wgymchamps/vault and the Pac-12 Now app
Session #2 - No. 4 Utah, No. 10 California, No. 13 Oregon State and No. 14 Arizona State
5 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network and the Pac-12 Now app
On the call: Jim Watson and Amanda Borden
Live Beam Stream
5 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. MT on Pac-12.com/wgymchamps/beam and the Pac-12 Now app
Live Floor Stream
5 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. MT on Pac-12.com/wgymchamps/floor and the Pac-12 Now app
Live Uneven Bars Stream
5 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. MT on Pac-12.com/wgymchamps/unevenbars and the Pac-12 Now app
Live Vault Stream
5 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. MT on Pac-12.com/wgymchamps/vault and the Pac-12 Now app
Both UCLA and Utah have scored some ridiculous ~198.5 team scores this season. They also have had issues in other meets. I do believe that this Cal team is capable of scoring as high as 198.3 to obliterate the previous Cal record set last year. A score in this range if done at the optimal time/meet, could result in that first national team title.
Of course, when I chatted with Cal head coaches last year. Co-head coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell reminded that scores are typically lower in the postseason due to the presence of an extra judge, who is always looking for deductions in routines.
Last Time Out - Cal closed out home schedule with the 2nd best team score in program history
Cal scored 197.900 as a team, the second-best team score only to the incredible home win over UCLA last year that was 198.050.
That score was punctuated by a historic final rotation on floor of 49.600.
Cal also came close to matching its best bar rotation scores ever, which was an NCAA record, by the way, set last year. The rotation score of 49.625 is the highest this season.
It was a memorable Senior Meet and a great way to sent off the 8 Seniors, although many of them still retain eligibilities.
Maya Bordas scored a career-high 39.600 as an all-around. That’s the 5th best in Cal history thus far.
“I didn't realize it at the moment, only afterward when they were announcing the awards,” Bordas said. “For me, that meet was about taking in all the moments to appreciate my last time at Haas. I think that's when everything just came together. It's very cool that my personal best could be in my last meet at Haas.”
Schank shared a similar sentiment about how the Bears performed their best because they were focused on the moment rather than the result.
“What we learned from our last home meet was that the environment was more relaxed. Everyone was more focused on having [and it resulted in the highest score this season.] That's a very important lesson that we can take into the postseason. Everything is still the same, just enjoy each other's company, all the hard work is going to pay off. The scores will come, as long as we do what we know to do.
Let's just celebrate each other and have a good time. I personally had a really good time. I was just focused on enjoying my last competition at Haas. It was a change in mentality and it really helped us.”
On the entire Cal experience outside the gym:
Of course, I also asked these two student-athletes about their overall experiences at Cal. Probably because I was not consistent with the wording of my questions, they talked about two very different things.
A double major in MCB and Busines Administration, Nina Schank talked about how Cal challenged her, both athletically and academically.
“Everywhere you go at Cal, you are surrounded by people who want to get better every single day. Being in that kind of environment motivates me to get better every single day. You see this very clearly in athletics but also in academics. People come here to learn, and I think that's just a very unique environment to be a part of. Every single person you meet wants to be the best version of themselves and soak in as much as you can.”
Maya Bordas, also set to graduate in two months with a Business Administration degree, said that some of her fondest memories of Berkeley are the College Football Game Days. “Going to night games in the fall, looking over California Memorial Stadium and seeing the sun setting and the Campanile. Being there with all your friends.” I am sure a lot of our WFC readers can relate to this (and most of us have not experienced being honored on the field for being a national champion).
Thanks again to the two Cal student-athletes for taking time out of their busy week of midterms/travels to chat with me. We shall see what other new program history, the 2022 Cal Women’s Gymnastics team will make in the coming weeks.