As anyone who’s ever filled out a March Madness bracket knows, postseason seeding does not guarantee the result of a matchup in any sport. In the postseason, it’s a team’s performance then and there that matters, not what it did in the weeks prior.
Thus, although the Cal women’s gymnastics team will enter the Pac-12 championship Saturday as the No. 3 seed, it has just as much capability as No. 1 seed UCLA and No. 2 seed Utah. Oregon State, the No. 4 seed, can also put together the lineups necessary to win in one of the most competitive conferences this season.
“We’re starting to peak at the right time,” said Cal co-head coach Justin Howell after the Bears’ meet last Friday. “I see a new level of confidence in them than I’ve seen from earlier meets in the season, and I think they’re starting to believe that they’re this good.”
For the second year in a row, four teams tied for the regular-season Pac-12 title, with UCLA replacing Arizona State among last year’s four. The evening session of the conference championship will feature all four, and given each team’s performance over the past several weeks, anyone could claim the title at the end of the night.
Every team in the evening session has reached 198 this year, with the top three teams each surpassing the mark twice. Additionally, UCLA’s national qualifying score, or NQS, is less than 0.1 higher than Utah’s — which is less than 0.1 higher than Cal’s. Although Utah is the only team that has scored in the high 198s, each program has 24 routines that could land them close to or above 199.
For the Bears in particular, if every gymnast recorded her best score on every event this season, they would post a 199.025. If the team posted its highest total on every event this season in a single meet, it would reflect a 198.625.
What has stopped Cal from reaching its maximum potential are falters on one or two events in each meet. On Sunday, when the Bears broke the program record with a 198.275, they started the afternoon with a 49.225 on vault — one of their lower scores this year.
“They have not yet put together four rotations of gymnastics that I felt like, ‘Yeah, that’s all we got,’ ” said co-head coach Liz Crandall-Howell. “Obviously, we want them to be able to dial those things in, but then at the same time, they went 198 two (meets) in a row without yet putting four events together.”
Cal will want to put it all together when it visits Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah, especially because every other team in contention also gained momentum in the last few weeks of the regular season. Each program will have an eye on the meet’s postseason implications, as it is the last opportunity for each team to improve its NQS and boost its seeding for NCAA regionals.
Some teams may feel extra pressure under these circumstances, but Cal plans to face the Pac-12 championship like it does any other meet. The coaches have emphasized the importance of focusing on improving routines with every meet — getting ‘one day better’ — not on recording high scores or rising in the rankings.
“We don’t treat any particular meet like it means more than any other competition. We don’t prepare for an opponent; we prepare for our tasks to do on the events,” Crandall-Howell said. “It’s about acknowledging it and then going, ‘Yeah, this is important, but everything is important. Every day is important.’ ”
Fans can attend the Pac-12 championship Saturday at Maverik Center in West Valley City or watch the event on the Pac-12 Network. The afternoon session, featuring Arizona State, Stanford, Washington and Arizona, will begin at noon Pacific time; Cal will appear in the evening session alongside UCLA, Utah and Oregon State at 5 p.m. Pacific time.