Coming off of arguably the largest upset in NCAA gymnastics this season, Cal women’s gymnastics is looking to cement its place among the nation’s best and secure a regular-season Pac-12 championship. The Bears’ 197.525-197.275 win over Utah on Feb. 12 moved them to No. 9 in the nation, their highest ranking since the preseason.
Cal begins the second half of the season with a Presidents’ Day meet against No. 34 Arizona. Although the Bears enter Monday’s matchup as the clear favorites, this meet is crucial in determining their position in the Pac-12 regular-season championship. Given its success during Saturday’s head-to-head with Utah, Cal women’s gymnastics only needs winning performances in two of its next three meets to take the championship.
As consideration for the postseason begins to rear its head, the Bears must contend with maintaining — and improving — their current standing on the national stage. Regardless of Monday’s outcome, establishing a coherent pattern of 197-plus scores will assist in alleviating the pressure as the team prepares for the coming months.
“We’re going to continue doing great because we all are so supportive, and as long as we’re having fun and doing our best, we’re building confidence,” said sophomore Andi Li, who posted a career-high all-round score against Utah. “I’m with my team, and it’s just going out there and showing it off and doing what we love to do.”
Cal fans can also anticipate senior Milan Clausi’s return, as she is predicted to grace the mat against Arizona. Having missed the last two meets due to an ongoing sickness, the 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year will bolster the Bears’ vault, beam and floor lineups should she return in full health.
At No. 34 in the country, Arizona is struggling to escape the abysmal Pac-12 basement. In its most recent match against Arizona State, Arizona suffered a close 196.6-196.4 loss.
Despite the defeat, the Wildcats left the meet with scores to be proud of: Their 49.35 on floor comprised two 9.9s from freshman Alysen Fears and junior Malia Hargrove, who tied for the event title. Coming off of a career-high 39.35 in the all-around, Fears may be able to keep in stride with some of Cal’s several all-arounders.
Other Wildcats to watch out for Monday include Hargrove, who’s been a mainstay in Arizona’s lineups the past three seasons and holds the team’s highest vault and floor scores this season. Junior Sirena Linton and freshman Emily Mueller also stand out among the GymCats. Linton’s 9.925 on beam in Arizona’s quad meet against Oklahoma, Stanford and Utah State is the highest score the team has seen this season across all events, and Mueller’s 9.9 against UCLA is the Wildcats’ second-highest beam score this season.
While both teams will enter Haas Pavilion looking for a win, Arizona looking for its first, it is clear that the true competition lies not in the matchup but in each team’s contention with itself.
With both teams having performed to varying degrees of success so far this season, this meet will reveal the ways in which the Bears and the Wildcats perform under pressure.
For Arizona, the risk of continuing its streak of losses will surely put the team in a difficult position as it competes against one of the nation’s best teams. For Cal, its successes in matches such as the one against Utah will mean that the pressure for another stunning victory is at an all-time high.
“We’ve done great so far, and we’re going to do even better,” said junior Nevaeh DeSouza, who earned career-high vault and all-around scores against Utah. “We got a 197.5 midseason, which is awesome because that was one of our highest scores last season. That’s pretty cool that we can get even higher than that by getting more people in the lineup.”
The blue and gold faithful can watch the Bears take on Arizona on Monday at 2 p.m. at Haas Pavilion.