Despite the new virtual meet format, the Bears got off to a stellar start last weekend. Fine performances by freshmen and a great improvement on the pommel horse offered a bright outlook for the unusual season to come.
However, the current question is whether the Bears can re-create their success. This week, the team will be put to the test in a meet against the Black Knights.
After defeating Arizona State last week, No. 8 Cal will compete against No. 12 Army on Saturday at Haas Pavilion. Despite the large venue, no audience is allowed. The meet will be streamed through the service Virtius.
The Bears opened the season with great success, scoring 384.800 points and topping ASU by 3.900. Victorious in five out of six events, the blue and gold showed they deserve their lofty national ranking. They displayed notable improvement on the pommel horse, which had been among the team’s concerns. However, that event is turning into a strength, thanks to newly added specialists and rigorous practices.
Because of injuries, a total of eight true freshmen made their debut for the Bears in the meet against the Sun Devils. Among them was Noah Newfeld, who contributed significantly to the team by hitting top-three scores in three events. Canadian talent Aidan Li also showcased his excellence on the pommel horse, garnering the highest score in the competition.
These young athletes were supported by the solid foundation built by upperclassmen. Junior Yu-Chen Lee embodied consistency, dominating the floor and still rings. Despite the encouraging start last weekend, Lee still sees the team’s further potential for growth.
“We are off to a good start, but there is still a lot of room for improvements,” Lee said. “Like trying to hit our routines more consistently and with better execution, and performing each skill with better form and sticking our landings.”
On the other side of the mat this weekend will be Army, which finds itself ranked 12th in the nation after a defeat at the hands of top-ranked Oklahoma on Jan. 30. With the matchup against Cal being their third meet this season, the Black Knights have more experience with the virtual meet format. Though it couldn’t manage to knock off the best team in the nation, Army has already had some strong performances early in the season.
Though the Black Knights come behind the Bears in the rankings, the momentum from their last meet makes them particularly dangerous. Sophomore Corban Barstow excels on vault and floor, capable enough to readily hit the 13- to 14-point range. Freshman Connor Cavanagh stood out at Army’s last meet by garnering 14.000 on vault, coming in sixth. Despite Cal’s improved pommel horse performance, Army senior Matthew Martin’s solid routines may be too much for the blue and gold to surmount.
Though it hasn’t faced off against Army the past few seasons, Cal appears to maintain an advantage given the two teams’ previous scores and rankings. Instead of focusing on wins, the Bears will need to continue to make small improvements to maintain their momentum. Cal fans can witness the match virtually Saturday at 2 p.m. through Virtius.
Eriko Yamakuma covers men’s gymnastics. Contact her at email@example.com.