A blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds gave Palo Alto a picturesque ambience Saturday afternoon; but the atmosphere inside Burnham Pavilion was tense with adrenaline, testosterone and nerves.
The Cal men’s gymnastics team, clad in blue and gold, stood out against the army of red and white that made up No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 1 Stanford. Despite the intimidating competition, sophomore Noah Newfeld’s final score, 80.050, was a step up from his last score of 75.700, allowing him to achieve his personal goal of qualifying for the 2022 Winter Cup.
“I knew I was going to be doing all-around, and I knew I was going to be going for it, but my difficulty level is a lot lower than some of the others,” Newfeld said. “I had to hit good routines for every single one of my events.”
Having gotten over their initial jitters of competing in front of a live audience at Cal Benefit Cup, the Bears were able to focus wholly on themselves and entered Stanford Open with full confidence. Although they were to face the nation’s top two men’s gymnastics programs, the visiting team wasn’t fazed — it ended its first away meet with the season best of 393.000, beating out its 2021 season best by 0.945.
Stanford took the top spot with 410.250 while Oklahoma came in second with 405.450. Though ending the meet in third place, Cal saw multiple season and personal records.
“Coach JT has themed the last two weeks ‘focus,’ so we’ve really stayed in our own bubble, locking in on each routine, our individual skills and going all in,” said sophomore Collin Cunane.
Both Newfeld and senior Caleb Rickard helped Cal improve upon their score from last week’s Cal Benefit Cup. Newfeld achieved the team’s highest scores at the meet for still rings with a 13.000 and tied with senior Yu-Chen Lee with a 13.650 on parallel bars. Rickard ended the day with the highest scores among his teammates for high bar with a 13.450 and for vault with a 14.550. Though, notably, Rickard’s vault score was lower than his personal best last season.
Junior Will Lavanakul also used the meet to shake off some rust at the start of the season. He achieved the highest score on pommel horse for the blue and gold with a 13.400, still lower than his career best of 14.250. Nevertheless, it marked a huge improvement from his performance during the Cal Benefit Cup.
With a slow start on floor at the Cal Benefit Cup, head coach J.T. Okada said the team was focused on strengthening its routines for the event, a goal it achieved. Senior Kyle Abe kicked the meet off strong for the blue and gold with a personal best of 14.150. The team ended with a 66.750, a 3.450 increase from its season-opening score.
Freshman Landon Wu, who made his collegiate debut Saturday, had a promising start to his Cal career with 13.100 on parallel bars and a 13.150 on high bar, the second-highest score following Rickard.
As Newfeld noted at the end of the meet, however, it’s not just those with the highest scores who are essential to the team’s success. Despite gymnastics being a mostly individual-oriented sport, the gym was filled with shouts of encouragement from teammates throughout the meet.
“David Rauchwerger really brings the energy every single meet even if we’re doing bad,” Newfeld said. “It helps a lot and helps us bring our energy up.”
The Bears will need to keep their energy high in preparation for Friday’s Pac-12 Invite in Seattle, Washington, where they will face Stanford, University of Washington and Arizona State.