A single performance is rarely a good measure by which to judge an athlete or team. In the first week of a season, however, the sole existing single performance sets a tone for the months to come.
The Cal women’s gymnastics team made a strong case for itself when it opened its season with a record 197.475 at the Super 16 meet in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon. In addition to winning the event’s third session — beating out Iowa, Arizona State and BYU — the Bears took home the second-highest score across all 16 teams, falling short of only reigning national champion Oklahoma.
“We were super excited to get a 197 because we’ve been training really hard in the gym, and our work has been paying off,” said junior Andi Li.
En route to team wins on every event except vault, the blue and gold swept the individual awards. Li won the all-around with a 39.45, highlighted by her near-perfect 9.975 on bars, which was good for first and also ties for the best score on the event in the country this weekend. Sophomore Mya Lauzon took a share of the vault title with a 9.925, while freshman eMjae Frazier topped the podium on beam and floor with scores of 9.95 on each.
Cal’s dominant showing made history on several fronts. The program’s highest season-opening score by 1.15 points is also its 11th-highest score ever and reportedly ranks 15th in NCAA women’s gymnastics history. And with only No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Florida scoring higher over the weekend, the Bears, who entered the season at No. 8, currently sit at No. 3 in the nation — their highest ranking ever.
“Every year, the team makes history, and that was one of the reasons I committed here, because I just wanted to help the team become a part of something that much bigger,” Frazier said.
Although the subjective nature of gymnastics scoring adds a caveat to the top three ranking, Cal proved itself as a team continuing to rise despite the departure of eight seniors and assistant coach Janelle McDonald, now the head coach at UCLA, after last season.
Cal started the afternoon on vault, its weakest event historically. With more 10.0 start values in the lineup than they had last season, the Bears took the lead and never looked back. They maintained their lead through all four rotations, earning scores on beam and floor that rank within the program’s all-time top 10.
“It felt amazing for them to score the way that they did,” said co-head coach Justin Howell. “We certainly knew that they were capable, but you never know what you’re going to get in the first meet, with travel and and just being on the road, and you never know what kind of adversity you might face.”
Among the session’s highlights was Frazier’s debut. The former U.S. national team member had an anticipated arrival in Berkeley, and Saturday’s showing indicated that she will likely join Li and senior Nevaeh DeSouza as one of Cal’s consistent all-arounders.
After adding a 10.0-starting Yurchenko double twist on vault, Frazier saw an uncharacteristic fall on bars but finished the routine with a stuck landing. She followed with impressive debuts on beam and floor, earning 9.95s and winning both events.
“Especially with the beginning and knowing that’s not exactly what I’ve been training and not what I wanted to show, … I’m happy that I went out, and I showed what I was capable of doing,” Frazier said.
Beyond Frazier, Li and Lauzon, the Bears performed consistently throughout the afternoon. The team recorded marks of 9.9-plus in more than a third of its routines and 9.8-plus in all but six of the 24. Because the lowest result on each event is dropped, Cal counted only two scores below 9.8, both on vault.
The Bears next compete at the Wasatch Classic on Saturday at Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah. Cal will face Iowa again, as well as Oregon State and Pitt, in the evening session as it looks to tally another high mark and prove itself as a serious contender on the national stage.
“We stick to our team motto, and that’s ‘One day better.’ You know, every every single day in practice, we’re trying to get one day better. Each weekend that we go out and compete, we’re trying to get one day better,” Howell said. “We’re looking at this weekend as a success, but we also know that next weekend is a new weekend.”
Fans in Berkeley can watch the Bears aim for one day better at the Wasatch Classic for free via Sporfie on Saturday at 7 p.m.