With two quad meet victories to open the season, Cal women’s gymnastics has proved its status as a legitimate contender to make an appearance in the national championship. After jumping five spots from their preseason ranking to No. 3 in the nation after their season opener, the Bears remain in the top six with their 197.525 at last weekend’s Wasatch Classic.
While it’s perhaps too early in the year to consider the postseason, it is clear that two weeks into their 2023 campaign, the Bears have set themselves up for success in March. Qualification and seeding for NCAA regionals are dependent on a team’s national qualifying score, or NQS, which is calculated with its six highest scores, of which three must be away. Cal’s first two scores of the season are both away — and higher than all of its away scores last season, paving the way for a significantly higher NQS entering this postseason.
Thus, when the Bears face No. 33 Arizona at McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona, on Friday evening, they will have a chance to secure not only their first dual meet win but also a third substantial away mark. Furthermore, with strong performances across all four events, the blue and gold have the potential to surpass 198, a bar only one team has reached this year.
“We still haven’t put a complete week together, and so, of course, we’re going to be looking not to just hit 24 for 24 routines but really, really nail them and nail all the landings,” said co-head coach Justin Howell. “That’s the beauty of this sport … there’s always something that you can improve on, but we are in a great position.”
Despite a slight dip in the overall standings, Cal moved from No. 13 to No. 6 on vault after the Wasatch Classic. With four 9.9-plus scores, the team tallied a 49.45, its third-best mark on the event ever. Having one or two weaker events in past years has limited the Bears’ potential, but they are currently ranked in the top six on every event, boosting their ceiling.
Strong consistency from several Bears has not only assisted the team’s record but also pushed the individual athletes up in the national standings. The all-around rankings see junior Andi Li — who’s fifth in the nation on bars — at ranked No. 10, with senior Nevaeh DeSouza and sophomore Maddie Williams joining her in the top 25. Sophomore Mya Lauzon, who was named Pac-12 Specialist of the Week for her showing at the season-opening Super 16 meet, is third in the country on vault and fifth on floor.
“Our fitness level is really high, the mastery of the skills that they’re doing is excellent, so we’re in a position right now where we can get back in the gym and really just focus on all the little things,” Howell said.
Though fans can likely expect Cal to return home with the win, Arizona has several gymnasts capable of challenging for individual titles. Senior Malia Hargrove, who was named to the Pac-12 preseason watch list, recorded a 39.4 in the all-around in the Wildcats’ first meet this year, just 0.1 off the career-best 39.5 she recorded at NCAA regionals last year. With scores of 9.9-plus on every event throughout her college career, Hargrove is likely to land in the top ranks Friday.
Arizona will look to its underclassmen for solid routines as well. After strong freshman seasons, sophomores Emily Mueller and Alysen Fears have both already matched career highs this year. Mueller tied her career-best 9.9 on beam in the Wildcats’ season opener, and Fears’ 9.9 on bars last week set a new personal record.
There may be a clear favorite entering the meet, but the caliber of both teams sets McKale Center up for a meet to watch. Fans can stream the matchup for free on Pac-12 Insider on Friday at 6 p.m.