Although fans couldn’t be in Haas Pavilion for the first meet this season, Cal’s commanding win over Air Force proved the Bears are out of hibernation and back home. However, their next meet begs one question: Can they go the distance and take down the Wildcats?
On Saturday, Cal is set to face Arizona in Tucson. The contest will be the blue and gold’s first against a Pac-12 opponent following their lone nonconference meet last weekend.
The match against the Wildcats may be closer than the Bears would prefer. Despite its decisive victory last weekend, Cal sits at No. 19 nationally in the Road to Nationals rankings. Arizona is not far behind at No. 21.
National rankings, however, do not tell the full story. The Bears know they can count on a staple crew of veteran all-arounders to challenge the Wildcats. Putting on a clinic against Air Force, senior Kyana George secured four event titles, including the all-around crown, pushing her career total to 31 event wins. Following George’s lead, sophomore Nevaeh DeSouza scored 39.250 to clinch second place in the all-around.
While Cal often relies on a core group of returners for its high scores, Arizona boasts great team depth, leaving only five athletes off the competitive lineup. It’s the Wildcats’ underclassmen who have contributed early in the season. One of their standouts is freshman Jessica Castles, a newcomer from England who has been named Gymnast of the Meet in both meets this season. In her short career, Castles has yet to score below a 9.750 and leads her team on balance beam with a 9.900. In Arizona’s latest meet against UCLA, sophomore Malia Hargrove scored a 9.900 to lead a dominant floor rotation, during which four other Wildcats also scored above a 9.800.
This could spell trouble for the Bears, who rank lower on floor than in any other event. Co-head coach Justin Howell attributes the issue to his team’s lack of stamina toward the end of a long meet.
“We learned that we need to improve our energy management throughout an entire competition,” Howell said in an email. “We warmed up with amazing energy and started to run out of gas towards the end. This will improve as we have more training and competition experience under our belt.”
However, the blue and gold can hope to make up ground on the uneven bars. They notched their highest event score, 49.050, in this event last week. Senior all-arounder Nina Schank led the charge with a stellar 9.900, a score yet to be reached by the Wildcats’ bars squad.
While bets can be wagered about who will show up for Cal on Saturday, Howell seems to value unpredictability, and he pledges to keep both his athletes and fans on their toes.
“You can expect to see new faces in the line up over the next few weeks,” Howell said in the email.
Regardless of who steps up for the Bears, it’ll be an exciting duel in the desert. Fans can tune in to Cal Live Stream on Saturday at noon to watch the event.
Aiko Sudijono covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at email@example.com.