Cal women’s gymnastics headed to Dickies Arena in sunny Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday to compete at the national semifinals for the fifth time in program history, in search of its first-ever finals appearance. Although the Bears — ranked No. 4 after regionals — entered the afternoon as a strong contender for a spot in the final, fatal mistakes ended the team’s historic season.
After holding a narrow lead halfway through the first semifinal with its strongest events to go, Cal closed the door on itself with two falls in its bars lineup. Forced to count one of them, the Bears saw their chances of being in the session’s top two slip away before the last rotation even began. With Denver counting a fall on beam in the third rotation, LSU and Florida easily punched their tickets to Saturday’s NCAA final.
“I don’t think that there was any sense of ‘Our best two events are coming up. We’ve got this,’ because you never let your guard down,” said co-head coach Justin Howell. “When Gabby (Perea) fell, there was probably a little bit of a moment of ‘OK, everything matters now.’ … The other mistake on bars was just a weird moment.”
Despite the atypical performances that ended their season, the Bears left the arena with several individual honors. Rounding out a breakout season, sophomore Mya Lauzon took home two trophies, tying for fifth on vault with a 9.9 and tying for eighth on beam with a 9.9375. She was also one of five Bears to earn All-American distinctions, bringing in first-team honors on vault and beam and a second-team honor on floor.
Freshman eMjae Frazier and sophomore Maddie Williams were both named second-team All-Americans in the all-around and on vault, with Frazier earning a third honor on vault and Williams adding one on beam. Junior Andi Li and senior Nevaeh DeSouza also each added a second-team distinction — the former on her signature event, bars, and the latter on vault.
Howell and Liz Crandall-Howell also took home the Women’s College Gymnastics Association co-Head Coaches of the Year award, while John Carney was named Assistant Coach of the Year.
“They are going to do so much more these next few years. Justin (Howell) was talking to us after the meet, and he was like, ‘You guys were a part of so much history,’ and he’s right,” DeSouza said. “They’re just going to keep getting better and better.”
Cal opened the meet on floor, putting down strong performances that gave it a 49.4375 and pushed the team into second, trailing closely behind Florida. The Bears counted no score below a 9.8375, and 9.9375s from Frazier and Lauzon gave the team traction heading into vault.
The rest of the weekend would highlight the importance of hitting on vault — the event made the difference for UCLA in the second semifinal and for Utah in the final. Cal has historically scored lower on the apparatus than any other event, but the team put forth one of its better showings this season, earning a 49.35. Though Lauzon was the only Bear to reach a 9.9 on the event, Cal’s consistency across its lineup gave it the highest vault score of the session, as well as the lead heading into the third rotation.
“We knew that we needed to perform well on vault and land well on vault, and we did that,” Howell said.
Uncharacteristic mistakes from junior Gabby Perea and sophomore Ella Cesario forced the team to count a fall on bars in the next rotation. The 48.7125 landed the Bears more than half a point behind LSU and more than 0.6 points behind Florida, pushing a spot in the final out of the picture.
Despite knowing their season was all but over, the Bears rallied in the final rotation and posted a 49.4125 on beam, the highest of the session. Cal counted three 9.85s, as well as a 9.925 from Williams and Lauzon’s 9.9375.
“The way that we ended was just amazing, to fight that hard on beam,” DeSouza said. “It was just emotional and fun, and it was a great way to go out.”