BERKELEY – With season-high team totals in every event and at least one gymnast posting a career-high score on every apparatus, it would be easy to overlook the final score of Cal’s meet against No. 4 Utah. The Utes (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) handed the Golden Bears (3-3, 0-2 Pac-12) a 196.875-196.275 loss Friday evening in Haas Pavilion in Cal’s home opener. Utah - a perennial gymnastics powerhouse and just one of five teams to win the NCAA title since the championships began in 1982 -- defeated the Bears by only .600, marking Utah’s lowest margin of victory in all-time meetings (12 total) between the two teams and signaling Cal’s growth in the past two seasons.
Cal’s final score is its highest score in a home opener in program history, and in addition to last year’s 196.525, this is the first time Cal has posted a score of 196 or better in back-to-back seasons since 2003 and 2004. It is just the program’s eighth score of 196 or better in 20 years.
“We’ve been fighting for a 196 since I’ve been here. It was that elusive 196. Last year, we got there at the end of the season and in great fashion, but it was also the end of the season when scores tend to be higher,” said California head coach Justin Howell. “For us to do it now, early in January, really tells the story of our team. If we fill some of those holes and pick back up some of those falls, we’re past a 196. We’re right there with Utah tonight.”
Cal gymnasts set or matched 14 career-high totals and six season-best scores in the meet, despite falls on both vault and floor. It was a major improvement from last week’s meet at Denver, when mistakes rattled the team throughout the meet and the Bears finished with a 193.225.
At the onset of the meet, Cal faced a major break with a missed landing by lead-off vaulter Charlie Owens (Alta Loma, Calif.). But the Bears picked themselves up to set three season-high totals plus a team-high 49.025. Senior Alicia Asturias (Granite Bay, Calif.) capped vault off by posting a 9.95 to match her career-high, and the highest vault score in program history to claim second in the event.
“After a very uncharacteristic spill by Charlie, I was curious to see how we were going to react – were we going to cry in our Cheerios and let it carry us down the tube, or were we going to say, ‘No, I’ve got this.’ That’s what we did,” Howell said. “We did a great job, didn’t watch the other team and stayed in our Bear bubble.”
On bars, every single Cal gymnast set or matched a season or career-high total. Asturias again highlighted the event, claiming third with a 9.875. Owens and fellow freshmen Jessica Howe (Plano, Texas) and Emily Richardson (Fort Smith, Ark.) all posted new career-highs as the Blue and Gold tallied a 48.975.
Cal carried the success to the balance beam, where five of the six gymnasts in the lineup posted career-high totals. Howe led way with her first-ever event title, posting a 9.875. Both Owens and sophomore Serena Leong (San Ramon, Calif.) finished second with a 9.85. The Bears topped the 49.0 mark on beam for the first time since 2008, posting a 49.150.
The Blue and Gold charted its third 49.0+ mark of the night on floor with a 49.125, again tallying three career-highs and one season-high. Leong claimed third in the event with a 9.9, and Desiree Palomares (San Dimas, Calif.) debuted on the apparatus with a strong 9.80.
“For us to have the resolve to come back after that and finish the way that we did -- even though it wasn’t a perfect night by any means -- but to have such a huge number on beam, and have that confidence on floor, and finish the way we did with lineup changes, I was just so proud that they were able to pick back up that momentum with a couple of major breaks in competition coming at the very end and the very end,” Howell said.
Asturias and Owens both competed in the all-around, with Asturias finishing second with a career-high 39.400 and Owens taking third with a 37.575.
“Cal is certainly starting to make its mark on a national gymnastics stage, and people are starting to recognize it,” Howell said. “The girls are starting to feel it. I think it speaks volumes about our program.”
Pac-12 play continues as the Bears head to Tempe, Ariz. for a meet at Arizona State on Friday. The meet begins at 4 p.m.
Join Cal Women’s Gymnastics in the social media realm for behind-the-scenes access to the Bears. Follow Cal on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for meet scores, practice updates, exclusive photos, videos and more. Find Cal at: • Twitter: @CalWGym • Facebook: Facebook.com/CalWomensGymnastics • Instagram: @CalWGym