Jan. 3, 2003
The California men's gymnastics team looks to claim its fifth NCAA championship in 2003. Coming off its second straight third place NCAA finish and a second place Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Conference showing, Cal returns six letterwinners, including NCAA parallel bar defending champion Cody Moore, while gaining seven newcomers.
"Our nucleus is Cody Moore, Michael Ashe, David Eaton, Graham Ackerman and Aaron Floyd," said Cal head coach Barry Weiner. "If those five guys are ready and healthy, then the youngsters will surround them with a score here and a score there, and we'll be very competitive. But it's essential that those five athletes are ready."
Moore, the first gymnast in Cal history to be named an All-American in the all-around (2000, '01, '02), enters his senior season after back-to-back MPSF Co-Gymnast of the Year honors. In addition to claiming first place at the NCAA and MPSF individual championships on the parallel bars with scores of 9.125 and 9.150, respectively, Moore finished second on the pommel horse (9.512) and fifth in the all-around at the 2002 NCAAs. After a dynamite performance at the Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas, Nev., Moore earned a spot on the US National team.
"Moore is probably the most talented gymnast that has ever come to Berkeley," said Weiner. "Things come easy to him. He's bright, talented and capable of winning All-American awards on almost every event."
Returning to the scene after redshirting last season due to a knee injury is junior Michael Ashe. As a freshman, he became the first Cal gymnast to win an NCAA title in the high bar (9.900). He followed that up with his sophomore All-American season, which included a second national high bar title (9.512), and a fourth-place finish on the pommel horse (9.100).
"Ashe is liable to win four high bar championships," said Weiner. "If we can get him healthy, we'll look to Michael to replace a lot of Jinjing Zhang's scores."
Zhang, the 2002 all-around MPSF champion and NCAA runner-up, exhausted his NCAA eligibility after the 2002 season.
Eaton posted a stellar sophomore year, tying for the MPSF horizontal bar title (9.300) and placing second at the MPSF individual championships on the pommel horse with a career best 9.475. The All-American finished sixth on the pommel horse at the NCAAs (9.350).
"David is a technically beautiful gymnast," said Weiner. "Of all the gymnasts in our program, he is technically the most refined. He is an attractive gymnast to watch."
Despite an ankle injury that plagued him through much of the season, Ackerman was able to pull off a sixth-place showing on the parallel bars on the final day of NCAAs (8.575). He tallied a team high 9.775 on floor exercise at the Stanford Invitational, guiding the Bears to a season best 36.175 in the event.
"Simply put, Graham is a great acrobat," said Weiner about the All-American. "I thought that he was going to be the NCAA champion on the floor exercise, but his ankle held him back. He's capable of winning NCAAs on floor and vaulting. Over the past year, his apparatus work has gotten much stronger. Graham has become a real mainstay in our program."
Floyd is another key returner for the Bears. The senior competed in every match last year, seeing time at all events except pommel horse. He placed second on floor exercise at the MPSF individual championships with a season high 9.275.
"Aaron is our leader," said Weiner. "His work ethic defines what Cal gymnastics is all about. He is hardworking, smart, helpful and present all the time."
A promising note for Cal's roster is the return of Karl Ziehn. Ziehn will serve as the team captain after redshirting his senior year due to a shoulder injury.
"We're hoping Karl can contribute and boost our overall team depth," said Weiner.
Also in the mix will be senior Brian Sano, who specializes in the rings. Sano is another gymnast who returns after dealing with an injury last year. He competed in only the first three meets of the season.
Two UC Santa Barbara transfers, junior Jeremy Dwork and sophomore Jay Yee, should make an immediate impact for the Bears this year, as well. Dwork specializes in rings and pommel horse while Yee will add depth in the all-around.
Five freshmen, Shawn Mowry, Alan Parsons, Chris Rodriguez, Alex Smith and Gilbert Trevi?o, will vie for a spot in the line-up and will be the youngsters that Weiner expects to contribute to another successful season.
"Our goal every year is to be competing the last day," said Weiner. "The last day there are six teams left, and that gives ourselves a chance to win NCAAs."
The Bears, who finished the 2002 season ranked sixth in the country, face a strong 2003 schedule, featuring meets against four teams which placed in the Top 6 along with Cal at the NCAAs last season. The Bears will immediately be put to the test, facing Stanford, who finished sixth at the NCAAs, in the first meet of the year. The schedule gets only tougher for Cal, seeing NCAA runner-up Ohio State the following meet and later in the season Michigan (4th) and Iowa (5th).