Cal Women's Gymnastics downs Stanford in season-opener
Cal set a new season-opening score with 196.325 despite having to count a fall
Cal’s season opener was far from perfect, but the No.7 Golden Bears prevailed with a narrow 196.325-196.275 victory over Bay Area rival No.33 Stanford nonetheless on Sunday afternoon from Haas Pavilion.
Competing in front of home fans for the first time since 2020 before the abrupt end of that season, Cal needed a solid floor routine from senior Maya Bordas in the end to earn the victory. A scoring mistake initially had Cal merely tying Stanford, but Bordas’ score was adjusted by 0.05 after its start value was checked.
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Holding out key veterans like 5th-year seniors Kyana George and Emi Watterson, Cal allowed a trio of freshmen to enter the lineup. Mya Lauzon contributed three strong routines with a 9.90 on vault and 9.80’s on beam and floor; she apparently also did an exhibition bars routine. Madelyn Williams had a strong bars routine with a co-team-high 9.875. Under a lot of stress as the anchor of the beam rotation with a miss, Jordan Kane got valuable experience despite a fall.
Showing that it was the first meet of the season, Cal Bears only hit on 21 of 24 routines. With two misses on the beam, the Bears even had to count a 9.100 score. It is a testament to the strength of the rest of the routines that the Bears were still able to set a new season-opening score despite counting a routine that was more than 0.5 lower than normal.
Even with some key gymnasts missing and plenty of minor deductions all around, Cal looks like a team that should easily average 197+ points in each meet by the second half of the season.
"We had some first meet jitters out there," co-head coach Justin Howell said. "They've been looking really good in practice over the past week, but we were tentative in some areas and didn't land as well as we could. It feels great to get out here and have competed. The end of last week was the first time we had a full team training together. Honestly, we had so many people out here, who haven't quite gotten in the practice to be in their top form. The exciting part is we have a lot of room for growth. This was a great opportunity to get some freshmen in there and competing; we're going to be counting on them this season and in the future."
Credit to Stanford for having a remarkable meet to push the Bears. Stanford’s Kyla Bryant was brilliant in taking the all-around in this meet to almost lead the Cardinal to a big upset. Byant’s 39.675 (thanks to a 9.925 on beam) allowed her to best Cal’s Naveah DeSouza (39.475), Andi Li (39.425), and Bordas (39.300).
The Bears will next travel to Seattle next weekend for their first road meet at UW on Saturday.
Coming off an NCAA National Championship semifinal berth and the program’s first individual national championship (Maya Bordas on the uneven beam), Cal Women’s Gymnastics will again look to continue its ascension toward the top of collegiate gymnastics in 2022.
Cal’s season opener was delayed after the program opted to pull out of the Collegiate Challenge in Anaheim on January 8th due to COVID issues within the program (although that meet lost a lot of luster after a bunch of teams also pulled out due to COVID). The Golden Bears will instead open against rival Stanford this afternoon.
With the extra year of eligibility taken by three super-seniors: Kyana George, Nina Schank, and Emi Watterson, Cal returns 23 out of 24 routines from last year and only lost Alma Kuc’s uneven bars routine to graduation. Sophomore Andi Li and junior Naveah DeSouza were the two all-arounders by the end of the season. Cal also will return experienced routines from now-seniors Milan Clausi (floor, vault, beam), Grace Quinn (floor), and reigning NCAA champ Maya Bordas (bars, beam).
A “good problem” and an item of interest to monitor all season is how much the younger Bears will push to break through the rotation. Cal added 5 freshmen to the squad while heralded sophomore Gabby Perea and injured last year senior Talitha Jones are also strong candidates to break into the lineup.
NCAA’s new NIL rule has a major impact on college gymnastics. While last year’s Olympic superstar Sunisa Lee has joined Auburn and the SEC, Cal will also face some famous newcomers within the Pac-12. Jade Carey (Oregon State) and Jordan Chiles (UCLA) are other USA Olympics stars who can participate in the off-season tours with Simone Biles while still retaining their collegiate eligibilities. ESPNW also lists several other impact gymnasts that have joined UCLA and Utah this year. In fact, Cal’s preseason ranking of 7th in the country indicates how the pollsters believe that UCLA would be better [UPDATED NOTE: UCLA is actually ranked 8th behind Cal in the national poll but just slightly ahead of Cal in the Pac-12 poll]; Cal made the final 6 last year after directly eliminating UCLA in the Morgantown Regional.
Unlike men’s collegiate gymnastics or the Olympics, the scoring of collegiate women’s gymnastics are capped at 10.0 if/when a gymnast is able to meet a set of achievable standards. This kind of scoring allows college teams to have much more parity. Depth, like what Cal has, is arguably more important than having the best gymnast of a meet. Not only are the Bears capable of returning to the national semifinal as a top-6 team in the country, but they could even improve upon that finish in 2022.