Athletes can anticipate several factors going into a competition: their opponent(s), the venue, the equipment, their rotation order. One thing they can’t? The audience.
For some meets, of course, one can speculate — schools such as Utah and those in the SEC regularly gather raucous crowds. For others, however, whether the stands will be full or closer to bare is up in the air until the moment the competition begins — sometimes after.
Cal women’s gymnastics has seen it all over the past few years, from empty arenas amid the pandemic to an almost-full Maverik Center for last year’s Pac-12 championship. The Bears can thrive in front of any audience, but perhaps more than ever with a large home crowd. More than 3,100 people arrived at Haas Pavilion for last weekend’s home opener, the team’s highest recorded home attendance ever, according to data from Road to Nationals.
When Arizona State comes to Haas on Saturday, the Bears will look to match their season-high score of 197.525 in front of what they hope will be another record crowd. In addition to tying its season best last Saturday against Stanford, the team swept the individual titles and saw all four all-arounders achieve marks of 39.4 or better.
“We’re going to continue to work on packing Haas Pavilion,” said co-head coach Justin Howell after the Stanford meet. “The energy in here was electric — lots of fans — so we’re going to continue to build off of that next weekend.”
Arizona State also enters the meet coming off a season-high performance and a win against a local rival. The Gym Devils defeated Arizona with a 196.8, almost half a point better than their previous season best. Against Cal, Arizona State will be looking to break 197 for the first time this year, something it is capable of doing if all the pieces come together.
The Sun Devils pose great potential to challenge the Bears on vault. Though Cal has made improvements since last season, adding gymnasts with 10.0 start values to its roster, the event remains its Achilles’ heel. The blue and gold have scored as high as 49.45 and as low as 48.65, a significant disparity compared to the other three events. The season low came against Arizona two weeks ago and allowed the Wildcats to challenge for the win up until Cal’s meet-saving final rotation on beam.
Arizona State’s victory last weekend was highlighted by junior Anaya Smith’s career-high 9.95 on vault, the team’s best score on the event since 2008. With sophomore Alex Theodorou’s 9.9 and senior Hannah Scharf’s 9.85 on top of that, the Gym Devils posted a 49.3 on the event, a mark that’s better than all but one of Cal’s this season.
In the two teams’ most recent dual meet, Arizona State upset Cal to deliver the Bears’ first loss last season, paving the way for a four-way tie for the Pac-12 regular-season championship. With the Bears entering the matchup undefeated once again, the Sun Devils will seek to break their streak once more.
“Everybody in the Pac-12 is strong, so you can’t go into any competition thinking, ‘We’ve got this one,’ ” Howell said. “We come out here, we continue to get one day better and we see where that takes us. But when we compete with joy, having fun, with the crowd behind us, and we’re prepared, and we’re staying in that mindset of getting ‘one day better,’ we have performances like (the Stanford win).”
Beyond the team matchup, Saturday’s all-around competition will be one to watch. Cal has five potential all-arounders in Andi Li, Nevaeh DeSouza, Maddie Williams, Mya Lauzon and eMjae Frazier, all of whom are capable of big scores. Li, DeSouza and Lauzon all rank among the nation’s top 25, with Li leading the Bears at No. 13.
The Gym Devils boast Scharf and junior Emily White, both of whom landed on the Pac-12 preseason watch list. They each have recorded all-around scores of 39.4 this year and have career bests higher than 39.5, setting the stage for a tight race Saturday afternoon.
“We’re really excited to just get back out there and keep improving throughout the season and showing everyone what we’ve been working on,” Williams said.
Fans can help provide another electric atmosphere for the Bears when they face Arizona State on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Haas Pavilion.