Since last season’s abrupt ending, Cal’s women’s gymnastics team has patiently awaited its return to competition. While other NCAA teams have been competing since early January, the blue and gold have not participated in an official contest for 319 days.
On Saturday, Cal’s patience will finally be rewarded. After nearly a yearlong competition hiatus, the women’s gymnastics team is scheduled to duel Air Force in its first — and only — nonconference meet.
The Bears will return to competition as a force to be reckoned with: They are currently ranked No. 8 nationally, a program record. Last season, the team broke into the top-15 ranking for every event and earned eight all-conference honors. Every member of this record-shattering team is slated to return, with the exception of two graduating seniors. This includes veteran All-Americans Maya Bordas (All-Around, Uneven Bars) and Kyana George (All-Around). Former Pac-12 Freshmen of the Year Milan Clausi (2019) and Nevaeh DeSouza (2020) will also return for possible career-defining seasons.
Cal also balances its veteran experience with fresh legs: The team boasts a talented recruiting class in addition to a strong group of returners. Freshman standouts Andi Li and Gabby Perea are predicted to make an impact throughout the season.
Led by co-head coaches Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell, a married couple who has catapulted the Bears from No. 49 to No. 8 nationally, the blue and gold can anticipate a historic season. After narrowly missing the 2019 NCAA Championships and abandoning its 2020 postseason dreams in the wake of the pandemic, Cal is predictably hungry for another breakout year and a chance to compete for a championship.
Its opponent, the Air Force Academy’s Falcons, are fresh off of a loss to No. 7 Denver. Under new head coach Jennifer Green, the Falcons had an early start to competition but struggled to find their footing against the skilled Pioneers. They also fell to No. 13 Southern Utah, leaving them with a two-meet losing streak to start the season.
Standouts from the Falcons include Briona Carswell, the team’s top specialist, who led Falcons with a 9.825 on beam. Beam, in fact, has been the Falcon’s highest scoring event across their two dual meets. They totaled a 48.575 against Denver and a 48.375 against Southern Utah. This could be a threat to the Bears, who recorded their lowest season-highs on beam last year.
While the Air Force Academy remains unranked, the Bears cannot let their guard down. Despite the successes of last season, Cal conceded losses to teams it expected to defeat, including the University of Washington and a previously unranked Arizona.
Given the intensity with which her team approaches practice, Coach Howell knows what to expect from the Bears in their season opener. “Gymnastically, I expect them to do the job we’ve been doing in practice,” he said. “We don’t focus on placing more attention to a competition than we do in any other practice. The job is the same, whether it’s competition or practice.”
Saturday’s meet will be the only opportunity for the Bears to fine tune before beginning Pac-12 competition. It’s crucial for them to regain competitive experience after almost a year away from the sport. Fans can tune in to Cal Live Stream on Saturday at 2 p.m. to watch the blue and gold mark the beginning of their season.