Cal and UCLA have a long and storied rivalry — in both academics and athletics. From trading off the title of the No. 1 university in the country to fighting for conference and national championships, the Bears and Bruins have gone head-to-head in just about every aspect.
Things will be no different when Cal women’s gymnastics welcomes UCLA back to Haas Pavilion on Saturday for the last guaranteed time. Beyond the UC rivalry, the meet will feature the reunion of sisters eMjae and Margzetta Frazier and the homecoming of former Cal assistant coach Janelle McDonald, now the Bruins’ head coach.
With UCLA slated to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in fall 2024 and next year’s matchup most likely in Los Angeles, this weekend marks the end of an era. Though future dual meets depend on conference scheduling, other circumstances such as podium challenges will likely bring the two teams together, said Cal co-head coach Justin Howell in a press conference Wednesday.
“We want to make sure that when we’re scheduling outside of our conference that we are meeting the best, most competitive teams that we can, and that’s certainly going to be teams like UCLA and other teams in the Big Ten and the SEC,” Howell added.
The meet’s biggest storyline, however, is the matchup between two sisters. eMjae Frazier is a freshman at Cal, while Margzetta Frazier is in her fifth year at UCLA. With a four-year difference between the two, they have never competed against each other and were not scheduled to — the older Frazier’s extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic made it possible.
“I’ve always hoped that (Margzetta) could come watch a competition, but the fact that she’ll be in that competition against me is very different,” eMjae Frazier said during the press conference. “It’s really cool though, too, because we’re both in two really important parts of our life. She’s a senior, I’m a freshman.”
Though the Cal freshman said they’ll likely focus on their respective performances and teams during the meet, she said she’s looking forward to wishing each other good luck in person and the fact that her sister — whom she calls her role model — may be able “to actually focus on my floor routine.”
Coach McDonald’s return to the Bay Area adds to the matchup’s significance. As the Bears’ assistant coach from 2018 to 2022, she helped Cal to record scores on bars and the program’s first national title: Maya Bordas’ win on bars at the 2021 NCAA championship.
“She’s doing a great job. We’re all very happy for her,” Howell said at the press conference. “We loved having her in Berkeley and helping our team over the last several years, and so it’s great to see that she has used her strength to go in there and make a difference at UCLA.”
Beyond the storylines, fans can expect a tight contest at Haas Pavilion. The Bruins and the Bears are No. 6 and No. 7 in the nation, respectively, and their averages differ by just more than a tenth of a point.
UCLA upset Cal last year, preventing the Bears from taking the regular-season Pac-12 title outright. The last time the two programs met in Berkeley, however, Cal took the win with its highest score in school history, a 198.05, highlighted by Emi Watterson’s perfect 10 on bars and an NCAA record-tying bars score.
The Bears emphasize, though, that they prepare not for a specific opponent but to put forth their best performance. With no defensive play in gymnastics, Howell said, the team trains the same regardless of who is on the other side of the mat.
“We focus on the controllable: how we’re preparing, and the energy that we’re bringing, and just letting the gymnastics training really take over in the moment,” Howell said at the press conference. “We’ll let the judges decide how those scores are going to be, but I know that on our end, the girls are training really well.”
The UC rivals will face off in Haas Pavilion on Saturday at 2 p.m. For fans unable to attend in person, the meet will air on Pac-12 Bay Area and Pac-12 Los Angeles and will be streamed on the Pac-12 website and the Pac-12 Now app.