Amid the frenzy of uncertainty and nerves that come with traveling halfway across the country, the Bears were only able to partially find their footing.
In its regular season finale on Saturday, March 19, Cal men’s gymnastics finished with 396.000 — its second highest score yet. However, it wasn’t quite enough to edge out Oklahoma at McCasland Field House in Norman.
The score itself also won’t be enough to raise the team to where it wants to be in the national rankings, but a number of individuals were able to rise to the occasion — proving that they can each hold their own.
While consistency is key, it’s even more important to see growth during the season because it proves that practice and hard work pays off.
One of the few Cal gymnasts who competed on vault in every single competition of the season, sophomore Jelani Sweet, had a season-opening score of 13.950. His lowest score of 12.950 occurred during the second meet of the season, but his consistency and growth throughout the year speaks volumes. Sweet’s execution score of 9.4 was tied for third-highest at the meet, and he closed out his regular season with a total of 14.200.
Junior Will Lavanakul continued to lead the Bears on pommel horse and finished second in the entire meet just behind Oklahoma sophomore Zach Nunez. Lavanakul’s score of 13.700 was also a huge improvement from his season opening score by 1.9 points. With difficulty scores ranging from 4.9 to 5.7 across the board, his performance will be highly anticipated at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, or MPSF, championship in two weeks.
As team captain, senior Yu-Chen Lee has always been a figure that the Bears can rely on to raise their overall scores. Competing in five of six events, Lee was able to pick up from where his teammates left off and led Cal on still rings with 13.250 and horizontal bar with 13.150. The former two-time MPSF Gymnast of the Week award winner was only absent in pommel horse, in which his teammates filled in with an average score of 13.13.
Equally impressive were Noah Newfeld and Tyler Shimizu, who each posted personal bests in their trip to Norman. On floor and parallel bars, Newfeld topped Cal’s charts with high scores of over 14.000. The sophomore has been making a name for himself all season long, particularly when he became the lone Bear to qualify and compete in the coveted Winter Cup earlier this season. Shimizu, who is still in just his first year with the Bears, tallied his highest score yet in pommel horse with a 12.950.
On the Sooners’ side, several gymnasts showed up with strong performances to send a message before facing Cal’s Bay Area rival No. 1 Stanford on Saturday. In at least three of the night’s events, a Sooner posted the highest individual score of any gymnast from the field. Nunez tallied 13.900 on pommel horse, Spencer Goodell posted 14.050 on rings and Emre Dodanli recorded 14.200 on floor. The most consistent gymnast on Saturday was freshman Fuzzy Benas, who brought home the highest individual all-around score with 41.650. In total, the team earned 204.750 by the end of it all — a whopping 8.1 winning margin.
Just weeks away from its postseason, Oklahoma proved why it deserves to be the No. 2 college men’s gymnastics team in the nation. It just so happened that No. 10 Cal was on the other side of it. Though the Bears weren’t favored to win a meet against such a highly ranked opponent, the now 13-1 Sooners have real hopes to win an NCAA title this season.
Meanwhile, Cal men’s gymnastics is just trying to stand on its own two feet before 2022 concludes. Each meet is a chance for the Bears to show steady improvement, but with only postseason events lying ahead, time is running out. The MPSF championship awaits the blue and gold April 2, followed by the NCAA championships April 15.