Cal competed in-person for the first time this season last Sunday against Stanford. While the Bears notched a score of 386.100, the second-highest team total this season, the Cardinal earned a 412.500, its highest overall team score of the season yet. With the five-up, five-count system kicking in, the blue and gold will square off with No. 14 Air Force in another virtual meet this Saturday, March 13 at 3 p.m. The meet can be streamed through Virtius.
The matchup with Cardinal was full of firsts, as it was not only the first five-up, five-count meet this season but also Cal’s first in-person meet. Fans were not allowed to attend the meet, which was held at Burnham Pavilion.
“Being back in person felt amazing and made the competition seem a little more ‘normal,’ ” said team captain and junior Caleb Rickard in an email. “Both teams were trying to match each other’s energy levels which made for a loud but exciting atmosphere; something I’ve been missing.”
From early on, though, the gap emerged between the two sides. The Bears had some shaky performances the first few events, while the Cardinal consistently hit high scores in the 13s and 14s range.
Nevertheless, Cal managed to deliver strong performances on vault, in which the team earned a 69.850, its best event score of the season. Rickard made history with a score of 14.650, which is not only a career-high record but also tied the school record set by graduate Asad Jooma in the 2020 season. Yu-Chen Lee’s 14.550 and David Rauchwerger’s 14.000 were also their collegiate-career bests.
“As the anchor of the lineup, I knew I had to step up myself if we were to continue on this upward path through the last half of the meet,” Rickard said. “Ending the line up with another stuck vault and earning a career-high as well helped both myself and the team gain the confidence and momentum we needed as we went into our last two events.”
Despite the series of achievements made on vault, the Cardinal proved its quality as the defending national champions. Unlike in prior meets, Stanford had more gymnasts back on the roster, and so this meet was somewhat of a return to normal for Cal’s rival as well.
Three-time NCAA National Champion Brody Malone earned victories on pommel horse and parallel bars fresh off of a break. Sophomore Brandon Briones, the 2020 CGA Rookie of the Year, and five-time NCAA All-American junior Ian Gunther both took home event titles at the meet.
Going into the Air Force meet this Saturday, Cal seems to have lingering issues that it wants to solve.
“We need to get off to a better start in the meet and then finish strong,” said head coach JT Okada. “It’s all about putting six events together in a single meet which we need to do with more consistency.”
For the No. 14 Falcons, this meet against the Bears will be their fourth competition of the season. Though Air Force’s season-high of 384.100 — which the team set in its very first meet — is nearly as high as Cal’s, it also reveals a downward trend this season. Freshman star Garrett Braunton, a six-time Junior Olympic Champion, is the Falcons’ X-factor. While these two teams are seemingly on a similar path, a five-up, five-count system that does not drop the lowest score makes the competition all the more daunting as just one mistake could be detrimental to the team.
Cal fans can stream the meet on Virtius this Saturday, May 13th. The meet starts at 3 p.m.
Eriko Yamakuma covers men’s gymnastics. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.