The Bears run hot and cold when it comes to their success on each event.
But Saturday’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, or MPSF, championship might prove to offer just the right environment for the team to fall into a successful rhythm. No. 9 Cal will be returning to Stanford’s Burnham Pavilion for the fourth time this year to compete against the Cardinal, Oklahoma and Air Force.
While competition looms large from No. 1 Stanford and No. 3 Oklahoma, given Cal’s solid performance against the Sooners two weeks ago and the fact that it will be competing in a familiar space this weekend, the pressure may be more motivating than intimidating. Facing No. 10 Air Force, which the blue and gold has bested before, and seeing Oklahoma fall in ranking from No. 2 to No. 3 might also give the team the confidence boost it needs.
Cal tends to feel confident when it focuses on performing to its personal best instead of comparing itself to other teams in the arena. The Bears are looking to head into the championship with that same mindset.
“When we focus on our energy levels and focus on certain details of our own gymnastics, everything else falls into place. When we focus on scores and we kind of zoom out to this big picture, sometimes it can be overwhelming,” said head coach JT Okada.
The MPSF championship is an exciting regional competition, but the NCAA championships are where Okada plans to pull out all the stops.
Okada’s game plan for this weekend’s meet is to stick to the routines that are tried and true. Instead of adding to the level of difficulty, Cal has focused on making adjustments to the order in which the skills are executed in some of its routines, based on how its gymnasts have been performing in the last couple of weeks.
The blue and gold’s all-around gymnasts, like senior Yu-Chen Lee and sophomore Noah Newfeld, will also be conserving their energy and only performing on a few apparatuses. However, Cal fans should not worry. The team has proven that, while not the brightest star in the world of collegiate men’s gymnastics, it is looking to continue improving.
“This year one thing the team has done a really great job with is continuing to be learners throughout the entire season, continuing to push themselves and try new skills and never get to the point of just doing what they’re capable of and they forget about the future goals they might have,” Okada said.
Many more specialized gymnasts have been a big part in exhibiting this mindset.
Sophomore Jelani Sweet, who had competed on vault at every single meet this season, achieved a 14.200 against the Sooners — an impressive improvement from one of his earliest scores of 12.950. Sweet is planning to compete at Stanford, and would play an important part in keeping Cal’s relatively high vault scores the last couple of meets on track.
The Bears also have a strong lineup on pommel horse, which could play to their favor considering that’s where the team will begin Saturday. Junior Will Lavanakul nabbed the second-highest score of the meet on the apparatus against Oklahoma with a 13.700. Sophomore Aidan Li seems to be getting back on the horse after a disappointing 12.350 against the Cardinals in early March. He scored a 13.200 against Oklahoma, but if he can handle the pressure of the MPSF championship and match his 13.900 season best, then he could set Cal up for a strong performance during the rest of the competition.
Against the Cardinals and Sooners, Cal is more underdog than bear. However, if the team of Bears can find just the right amount of confidence, then maybe the team can pull off its best all-around score yet.
“We’re competitive on every event if we do our job, if we hit and other teams mess up they gotta watch out, because we’re a dangerous team,” Okada said.