As Cal progresses deeper into the season, the men’s gymnastics team is starting to reach its full potential — if at a more gradual pace than it did last year.
The blue and gold earned a victory against Air Force on Saturday, posting a season-best overall score of 389.700. Cal will look to reach new heights once more in its upcoming meet against No. 1 Oklahoma on Saturday, March 20th.
Despite the individual successes and tangible improvements seen thus far in the season, one issue that the Bears had not been able to successfully handle was their proclivity for lethargic starts. While the team excels at vault — the fourth event of the competition — Cal often kicked off meets with less-than-stellar showings in the first three events.
However, the Bears seemed to finally overcome that obstacle over the weekend. Head coach J.T. Okada, who raised the issue after the last meet, was pleased with his team’s performance against Air Force.
“The team did exactly what was asked of them,” Okada said. “This was the challenge I set for them this meet and the week leading up to the competition and they handled it tremendously.”
Led by junior Yu-Chen Lee’s 13.350 and freshman Noah Newfeld’s 13.300, the Bears opened the meet with a strong floor performance in which they earned 65.150 points to give themselves a three-point advantage over Air Force.
However, even after a solid outing in pommel horse from sophomore specialist Will Lavanakul, the blue and gold allowed Air Force a slight lead on still rings.
But the Bears remained calm and managed to turn the tide with vault, their specialty, with all lineups notching high 13s to 14s, and junior Caleb Rickard winning the event with a score of 14.250.
In the last two events of the meet, parallel bars and horizontal bar, during which Cal has often stumbled in the past, the Bears put an exclamation point on their win. In the parallel bars event, Lee captured a 13.450, while Rickard notched a season-high of 13.300.
Most notable, however, was Newfeld’s career-high of 13.550 on parallel bars and his 13.200 on high bar. With those outstanding performances and his personal best score of 13.400 on pommel horse hit in this meet, Newfeld was an easy choice for the CGA Rookie of the Week award, which he won for a third time this season.
“This season we struggled to start well in our first few events, so we really improved on that against Air Force,” Newfield said. “Personally, I tried to add to our success by hitting the clean, consistent routines I have for my events.”
Saturday, March 20th will feature the most challenging meet of Cal’s season thus far, as No. 1 Oklahoma will be on the other side of the mat.
Oklahoma is equipped with outstanding gymnasts and the strongest floor routines in the country this season. 2019 US Championships bronze medalist and senior Gage Dyer is a force to be reckoned with, but he’s not alone. Spencer Goodell, who won the CGA gymnast of the week honor as an all-arounder after last week’s meet against Stanford, will help lead an already formidable crew.
A threatening opponent like the Sooners, however, seems to worry the Bears very little.
“We typically don’t even think about what team we are competing against or how they are ranked,” Okada said. “We are just at the point where we are ready to take some more risks in some of our routines, and we will be looking to upgrade and see how that is judged this week.”
Whether Cal can stay strong and upgrade in the face of the country’s highest-ranked opponent or not, fans will be able to tune in on Virtius on Saturday, March 20th.