With only three weekends before the postseason, every NCAA gymnastics team is looking for high marks to boost its national qualifying score, or NQS. And with seedings for most conference championships already tentatively decided, win-loss records going forward tend to have little bearing.
As such, when No. 7 Cal, No. 6 LSU, No. 23 Washington and No. 37 George Washington meet at Raising Cane’s River Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the Purple and Gold Classic on Friday, each team will more than likely be competing against itself — not one another.
For the Bears, this is yet another opportunity to put their motto — “one day better”— into action. The first of three consecutive quad meets for the team, the Purple and Gold Classic offers a glimpse into the environment of postseason matchups.
“It’s less about the teams that we’re seeing, and it’s more about a change of environment, for us to have a different experience so we can continue to get better,” said co-head coach Justin Howell. “Certainly, we’re going to have three other great teams that we’re competing against, so … you’re going to see us try to bring out our best.”
LSU is among Cal’s most evenly matched competitors this year, so spectators can expect a tight contest. Despite a slow start, the Tigers have climbed the national rankings. They surpassed the Bears for the first time this season after defeating then-No. 9 Alabama last weekend.
LSU junior Haleigh Bryant, who is ranked No. 1 on vault, has recorded two perfect 10s on her signature event this season. The six-time All-American and 2021 NCAA vault champion has also competed in the all-around every meet this year, posting a 39.45-plus each time to claim the country’s No. 4 spot.
Cal’s several all-arounders will face a top opponent in Bryant and sophomore Aleah Finnegan, who is ranked 12th and has tallied four 10s this season — two of which were on floor. The former U.S. national team member is one perfect bars routine away from a Gym Slam: 10s across all four apparatuses.
With three Bears joining the two Tigers in the top 22, the all-around race will be tense. Cal junior Andi Li leads her team at No. 13, and senior Nevaeh DeSouza and sophomore Maddie Williams come in close behind at 17th and 22nd, respectively. Adding competition will be sophomore Mya Lauzon and freshman eMjae Frazier, who have both tied Cal’s program record this year.
While it can be difficult not to focus on rankings when they determine postseason seeding, Cal’s gymnasts pride themselves on being able to stay within their “Bear bubble.”
“I don’t think we try to focus on (rankings) as much,” Williams said. “I know it’s hard when you see it on social media, … but we’re really just trying to focus on what we can control — doing everything at the meet that we’ve been training in practice, just doing everything that we possibly can, the best we can, and the rest will happen.”
Though it’ll likely be Cal and LSU battling for the win, Washington and George Washington each have something to prove: that they can stand their own against top teams. Both enter the meet with momentum, having recorded season highs within the past two weeks. Not to mention, each squad boasts gymnasts who can challenge for individual titles.
Friday’s meet also serves as Cal and Washington’s Pac-12 matchup. Though the Huskies are expected to remain winless in conference play, a strong performance would build their NQS and set them up for the Pac-12 championship in two weeks.
The Purple and Gold Classic will not be televised or streamed, but The Daily Californian will be reporting live from the meet. Fans can follow along @DailyCalSports on Instagram and Twitter for live streaming and updates. The event starts Friday at 4 p.m. Pacific time.