As gymnasts in a competitive conference and on a contending team and gunning for a deep run into the postseason, it’d be easy for the Bears to buckle under the pressure of their long-term goals. However, co-head coaches Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell are looking to make sure that the opposite occurs.
“We have a catchphrase in our program: one day better,” Howell said. “I definitely felt like we’ve gotten one day better, one week better this past weekend.”
One day at a time, No. 16 Cal will aim to continue its progress against No. 14 Arizona State on Sunday. The Sun Devils will prove to be a challenging opponent for the Bears, as their last meet was one for the record books. Although they lost to No. 3 Utah, the team earned a 197.15, its highest meet score since 2006. The maroon and gold will surely look to carry over their successes when they duel with Cal.
However, the Bears seem to be on an upward trajectory themselves. Although the blue and gold were late to the preseason, they still have two wins under their belt against Air Force and Arizona. While gymnastics is not necessarily a sport of wins and losses, the Bears’ relatively seamless return to form has them on the right track to take on the Sun Devils.
With that being said, ASU certainly has the skills to keep Cal on its toes. The Sun Devils’ young core is led by sophomore all-arounder Hannah Scharf, who scored a 39.475 against Utah. No gymnast on Cal’s squad has been able to touch Scharf’s score in the all-around. The visiting team can also rely on two-time freshman of the week Sarah Clark, who helped ASU reach season-highs on floor (49.4) and bars (49.35).
As a team, the Sun Devils boast an uneven bar lineup that is among the best in the nation. Over their last three Pac-12 meets, the Sun Devils have yet to dip below 49.0 in this event. Sophomore Juliette Boyer, who earned a career-high 9.925 last week, has been an instrumental part of ASU’s dominance.
Cal will certainly count on its usual suspects to deliver. With more meet experience under their belts, senior Kyana George and sophomore Nevaeh DeSouza can challenge Scharf for the all-around crown. Beyond those two, Milan Clausi, Nina Schank and junior Maya Bordas have quietly been forming the Bear’s core. Despite falls and other setbacks, the upperclassmen compete in almost every event and have a demonstrated history of success.
Additionally, it appears that Cal still has a few tricks up its sleeve, including freshman Andi Li and senior Emi Watterson. After a shaky debut, Li claimed event titles on beam and bar in her second competition. If she performs equally well against ASU, Li could be a powerful punch that the Sun Devils weren’t expecting. Watterson, meanwhile, recently returned to competition after dealing with some minor injuries. If a healthy Watterson competes on bars, she can potentially elevate the Bears above the Sun Devils in their best event.
Faced with a tough opponent on Sunday, Coach Howell and his team remain true to character: composed and confident in themselves.
“There’s no defense in gymnastics,” Howell said. “So our preparation will remain the same. Our eyes are on the postseason.”
In order to get there, the Bears must first post a high score against the Sun Devils. Fans can catch the action on the Cal Live Stream this Sunday at 2 p.m.
Aiko Sudijono covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at email@example.com.