As humans, traveling to new places, uncovering parts of the world and tasting new experiences feel integral to living life to its fullest — a critical component of the human experience. Yet as incredible as reaching into foreign waters is, there’s nothing quite like being at home.
And for the first time this season, Cal women’s gymnastics returned home to enjoy the energy of a Haas Pavilion meet, and better yet, a victorious home-opener.
“I feel really great about today,” said sophomore Madelyn Williams. “I was really excited to get back out there in Haas for the first time this season, and I think today went really well.”
One of the greatest lessons the team learned being on the road over the last few weeks was adaptability. The reality of back-to-back away meets is that teams must allocate time for travel, and in return, lose out on the luxury of full time for practices.
“We got a full week of training — that was huge. The last few meets on the road we’ve only gotten a couple days in the gym, then had to get on a plane or a bus and go,” said co-head coach Justin Howell. “We got a full week of training, so we were able to hit them a little bit heavy at the beginning of the week … then taper off a little bit at the end of the week so that they were just feeling confident.”
And confident the Bears certainly felt, tying their Wasatch Classic performance and season-high 197.525. However, the meet didn’t begin as a clean Cal sweep. In fact, after the first rotation, the Cardinal took the lead.
Cal opened the meet on vault — its admittedly weakest event — scoring on almost all fronts below 9.850. The exception to this was a collegiate breakthrough vault by freshmen eMjae Frazier, who notched a 9.950, taking first place on the event.
“Last weekend we rested her a little bit just because she does a lot of really hard gymnastics and she’s used to competing maybe three times a year as an elite. In this situation, we’re competing 13, 14 meets, every single weekend,” Howell said. “She had a great full week of training and felt fresh, and I think you saw that. Super super proud of her, and proud of the entire team.”
The freshman didn’t stop there, also tying for first on floor with fellow teammates Mya Lauzon and Andi Li.
The Cardinal hit the bars for the first rotation, and two strong performances by Brenna Neault and Ira Alexeeva produced twin 9.900s that pushed Stanford into first going into the second rotation. Overall, the team never fell below 9.800 on the event — Cal, on the other hand, took a tumble as it fell to 9.750 on vault.
The Bears clawed back during the second rotation, churning out two 9.950 performances by Andi Li and Madelyn Williams, and a 9.900 by veteran Nevaeh DeSouza. These feats pushed Cal back on top for first, a packed and lively Haas Pavilion cheering the team on the whole way through.
However, the battle for first was a close one for nearly the entire meet. The then-No. 22 Stanford produced powerful performances on every event, keeping the Bears on their toes as it tackled routine after routine. Two critical falls on beam during the fourth rotation proved fatal for the Cardinal, and pushed a comeback victory too far out of reach. Yet as much as the two were competing against each other, the real battle lies in leaping over the mental blocks.
“Honestly, in this sport, you’re really competing against yourself. There’s no defense in gymnastics, you can’t knock somebody off the beam, strategize about that,” Howell said. “We’re gonna be prepared, and our motto of “one day better” — we’re gonna get one day better, so that’s what I hope for next week.”