Cal ties NCAA record on bars, set program-best team score of 198.05 in win over UCLA

Emi Watterson earned a perfect 10 for her uneven bars routine

Cal Women’s Gymnastics has just graduated from a fun up-and-coming team to a legitimate NCAA championship threat.

Coming off a close road loss last weekend to the Utah Red Rocks that gave Utah the Pac-12 regular-season title, the Golden Bears bounced back with the best meet in program history by far on Saturday afternoon when they defeated the collegiate gymnastics powerhouse UCLA from the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion.

The Bears earned a team score of 198.050, shattering the previous record high score of 197.675 set in the 2019 Athens Regional. They tied the NCAA record high score of 49.825 for the uneven bars, achieved only once in college women’s gymnastics history by UCLA in 2004. Oh, that UCLA team won the NCAA national championship that year.

In my previous profile on this team, I mentioned how Cal needed to break 198 points to go from a top-10 team to a national championship contender; the Bears have finally realized their potential to be an elite team. Before this weekend in the 2021 season, only Florida, Oklahoma, and LSU had team-high scores better than 198. A score over 198 or close to it had been scored by the NCAA winning squad at the NCAA Championships for most seasons for the past two decades.

While the afternoon was full of highlights, the most special moment came during the second rotation. The Golden Bears faced a small deficit to the Bruins after a very strong rotation on vault, including this 9.925 from sophomore Nevaeh DeSouza.

On the uneven bars, senior Emi Watterson earned a career-best perfect 10 for her routine. This was only the second perfect 10 in Cal history on this apparatus (Cindy Tom in 1992). Cal fans can see her full perfect 10 bars routine in the embedded tweet below.

Watterson also had a fantastic balance beam routine that earned 9.950 from the judges. She should be a shoo-in for the Pac-12 Specialist of the Week honor. Watterson had one such honor from the 2020 season.

What a day for the senior from Brisbane, Australia!

A post shared by Cal Women's Gymnastics (@calwgym)

Justin Howell had the following to say about Emi’s performance in the official Cal press release.

We've gone back and forth with a different dismount for Emi. Due to injury, she hadn't had a lot of repetition of doing complete routines with a difficult dismount, but now she's gotten to a good place and she can get back to focusing on each individual skill and how well she does them. We went back to a toe-full double tuck dismount because she has ownership over the dismount. She is one of the best bar workers in the country and to see her finally get rewarded with the 10 was really, really special. She has been doing 10.0 quality work in the gym, but no one was able to see it until today.

Of course, tying the NCAA record on the uneven bars required a full team effort.

Freshman Andi Li and junior Maya Bordas got near-perfect scores of 9.975. Senior Nina Schank also set a career-best with her 9.950. Making her season debut, senior Alma Kuc had a 9.925. It is not every day that a 9.900 score, a very solid score by Neveah DeSouza, was dropped as the team low. Assistant coach Janelle McDonald had steadily improved the Bears on bars since joining the program at the end of 2018.

[UPDATED: Cal Women’s Gymnastics has finally posted the entire uneven bars rotation. It was filmed from the floor by the student coach, and former Cal gymnast, Maleah Pearson.]

The Bears then used the emotional high from the uneven bars to set a school record on the balance beam.

In addition to Emi Watterson’s fantastic routine, the Golden Bears got three 9.900 scores from DeSouza, Bordas, and senior Kyana George. Junior Milan Clausi had a great 9.850 routine as the leadoff, and the Bears were able to cover a wobble by Li.

Credits to the UCLA Bruins for having a great meet themselves, before they collapsed on the last rotation on the balance beam. UCLA, with their viral floor routines that had a lot of fun modern dance elements, may not be as strong this year as the previous years (they won the NCAA championship as recently as 2018) but they were still a strong squad that brought out the best from our sturdy Golden Bears.

The Golden Bears had to have a strong floor rotation to win this meet. Senior Grace Quinn registered a career-high 9.900 as the leadoff, which was matched by Clausi. 9.875 were earned by both DeSouza and Bordas, and George got a 9.95 to seal the historic team score. This floor rotation was the 3rd best in program history.

These are the individual winners for this meet:

Vault: Chae Campbell (UCLA) 9.950
Uneven Bars: Emi Watterson (Cal) 10.000
Balanced Beam: Emi Watterson (Cal) 9.950
Floor Exercise: Kyana George (Cal), Pauline Tratz (UCLA) 9.950
All Around: Nevaeh DeSouza (Cal) 196.875

While Cal and collegiate gymnastics fans were fortunate that this meet was streamed online (unlike a lot of other events held in Berkeley), it was too bad that the Pac-12 Networks did not choose to cover this meet or be able to show the rerun during the offseason.

The fact that Cal surpassed the 198 team score with just one perfect 10 meant that the Bears still got room to go even higher in this 2021 season. The “one day better” motto adopted by the Howells since they took over the program can still be true.

With two regular-season meets left, both against Washington (one was recently added after Stanford had to cancel the midweek meet), the next challenge for the California Golden Bears will be to replicate this performance. Should the Bears be able to maintain this level of performance, they will challenge Utah for the Pac-12 crown in the Pac-12 Championships on March 20th. If they can improve just a little bit across the board, Cal can get to the uncharted territory in the NCAA postseason, such as making the NCAA Championship Finals, despite how the field had just been reduced from 6 to 4 starting in the 2019 season.

Regardless of how the Cal Bears do the rest of this season, Saturday was a historic day for this program. The best news might be that this did not feel like a fluke at all, and I would believe that a new program-best score may be mere weeks away.

Congratulations to co-head coaches Elisabeth Crandall-Howell and Justin Howell and the entire Cal Women’s Gymnastics team, both past and current, on this historic day! The best is yet to come, hopefully!