Cal Women's Gymnastics earns Pac-12 title for 1st time in program history
Golden Bears do share the title with three other teams, after losing past two meets to win it outright
“One Day Better” has been the motto for Cal Women’s Gymnastics since co-head coaches Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell took over the program a decade ago after it was saved from the chopping block. That steady continual improvement has resulted in an almost complete rewriting of the Cal program history book in rotation and team scores. Cal even got its 1st ever NCAA national championship when now-senior Maya Bordas won it on the uneven bars last spring.
Therefore, it feels somewhat inevitable that the Cal Bears will finally break through with earning its 1st Pac-12 title, even in a conference with historically great programs like Utah (9 NCAA titles) and UCLA (7 NCAA titles). That breakthrough became official last weekend when Utah lost to Arizona. The Cal Bears will get to add a new banner in Haas Pavilion for Women’s Gymnastics conference titles.
The Pac-12 does award “conference champions” in women’s gymnastics for both the regular season and a separate one for the conference championships (coming up on March 19th). They also do not do a tie-breaker for the regular-season championships.
By winning their first 6 dual meets of the season, including 5 in Pac-12 action, Cal had the chance to win the Pac-12 title outright last Sunday at Arizona State. The Golden Bears had the lead going to the final rotation but had a shaky rotation on the balance beam (always tough, especially on the road) to be edged by ASU. On their second try this past Sunday, a solid new season-high team score of 197.200 on the road was nowhere near enough against a nearly perfect UCLA squad that posted a 198.050.
The Golden Bears (6-2, 5-2 in Pac-12) do still get to celebrate afterward with the official banner. Celebrations will also be held in Utah, Oregon State, and Arizona State as all four schools finished with the identical 5-2 record. Not too surprisingly, this marked the first time that there was a four-way tie at the top. Utah has been a perennial gymnastics powerhouse even before they joined the Pac. Oregon State has also got a great gymnastics history. Arizona State joins Cal as first-time Pac-12 champions. You can find the full history of Pac-12 Women’s Gymnastics champion here.
"We definitely feel like our team worked really hard to get to this place," Cal co-head coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell said. "Not just this year, but for the last 10 years. To be able to step up and compete with programs that have had such a long legacy and be included in those names. It's wonderful for our team to see that we belong. In every competition we enter, we have the opportunity to win and compete with anyone."
Of course, Cal has got ambition beyond just sharing the Pac-12 regular season title. The Golden Bears are certainly capable of winning the crown at the conference championships even if both Utah and UCLA have got much higher season-high totals. The Golden Bears will also seek a return to the NCAA Championships as one of only 8 teams and another first in program history to be in the final session as one of the top four in the country.
Cal has actually got two more meets (at Ohio State this Friday and then hosting Iowa on Sunday) to prepare for the postseason. The NCAA seeding is done based solely on the National Qualifying Scores (NQS). To get a team’s NQS, you first take their top 6 team scores with three from away meets. Then the NQS is the average of all except the best score. Cal will look to improve their NQS, currently 197.170 as the 10th best in the country, to earn a better postseason draw.
Another bright spot from this past Sunday was a big step toward the return of 5th-year senior Kyana George this season. George suffered an Achilles injury training in the offseason. While some thought that she would be out for the season, Kyana George worked hard in rehab to be able to do a balance beam exhibition on Sunday. Even with the unprecedented team depth in program history (a big reason why they won the Pac-12 this year after missing key gymnasts to injuries or illness at times), Cal can certainly use the return of a senior leader like Kyana George to the lineup, even just as a specialist.
Congratulations to the team for achieving this significant milestone!
Cal fans should savor the opportunity to see this team in person in their final home meet on Sunday afternoon (2 pm PT) and honor the 8 seniors on Senior Day.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!