Jan. 12, 2005
The 2005 Golden Bears gymnastics team, stocked with a wealth of depth and talent, look to improve on what was an impressive 2004 season: a 16-1 overall record complimented by a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Conference crown and sixth-place NCAA Championship finish.
"We had a bitter-sweet ending to the season last year; winning the preliminary rounds and then coming up short in the NCAA finals," California associate head coach Kip Simons said. "Nothing to hang your head about, but we certainly would like to improve on that sixth place standing."
A conference championship and Top-10 national finish would seem difficult to build upon. A tradition of excellence, however, has left little out of reach for California. Since 1948, the Bears have had 165 individual Top-10 finishers at the NCAA championships, 24 national individual champions and have collected four national titles.
With head coach Barry Weiner at the helm, Cal has further established itself as a national power, amassing a 187-48-1 (.796) record in his 14 years. Last year's MPSF conference Coach of the Year award was the fourth for Weiner, who has also collected two national championships and two National Coach of the Year honors (1997, 1998).
The Bears will be led on the floor by seniors Graham Ackerman and Jay Yee. Ackerman, a six-time All-American and co-captain, has developed into one of Cal's all-time great gymnasts. At the 2004 NCAA individual finals, the Washington native became the first Golden Bear to win two national titles (floor exercise and vault) in one year, as well as the fourth to capture four All-America honors (floor, vault, parallel bar and high bar) in one night.
"It helps, confidence-wise, to have two-time captain and two-time national champion Graham Ackerman on our side going into the season," Simons said. "He's been there on the last day, for the team and individual NCAA finals every year since he's been here. We expect him to be a strong foundation for the large freshman class which we have."
Jay Yee, a transfer from UC Santa Barbara, made an immediate impact for the Bears last season, capturing the MPSF still rings championship, and finishing 10th in the NCAA individual finals. Yee, considered one of the strongest gymnasts in the country, should be a major force this season on rings, pommel horse and vault.
"Jay has grown tremendously as an athlete, and we'll be looking for guidance and leadership from him this year as well," Simons said. "We look for Jay to be a factor on the three events that he does. He just has to be there on that last day of NCAA competition and he will contend for a national title."
Junior co-captain Shawn Mowry will provide plenty of support for Cal, coming off of a successful 2004 campaign. After two seasons of dependable work, including a fourth-place finish at last year's MPSF championships in the floor exercise, Mowry will focus on the floor exercise, pommel horse and parallel bars in 2005, events which the Bears' coaching staff expect him to excel.
A freshman from Falls Church, Virginia, Tim McNeill is expected to have an immediate impact on Cal's success. "Tim will be an all-arounder for us," Simons said. "To come into a collegiate program and be a top-six player in each event is a success in itself."
Junior Chris Rodriguez and a talented sophomore class, comprised of Randall Heflin, Bromley Palamountain, Alan Parsons, Jason Pierce and Hiroki Yokoyama will add much-needed depth to an already accomplished squad.
The coaching staff expects Heflin to have a break-out season after the sophomore came on particularly strong last year as a freshman, evidenced by his second-place all-around MPSF championship finish, followed up by a 12th place NCAA all-around final standing.
In what Simons describes as the "most talented freshman class that I've seen in the five years I've coached here," the Bears will welcome seven new additions to the roster. Highlighted by Tim McNeill, the class is rounded out by Tyler Block, Kyle Brady, Colin Christ, Mark Freeman, Kyle Litow and Aaron Moy.
The Bears go into the 2005 season with the bar raised high as ever. First on their list will be defending their MPSF championship, where they will go up against the likes of Air Force, Nebraska, Okalahoma and Bay Area rival Stanford.
Cal's aspirations don't end there, however, as it eagerly awaits the national spotlight that accompanies the NCAA Championships. "As we head into the championships, we want to be there on the last day, be a part of the top six teams in the country, and compete for the national championship" Simons said.