July 22, 2008
The California men's gymnastics team was a force to be reckoned with over the course of the 2008 season. From upsetting then-No. 1 Stanford at home to begin the season to taking fifth at the NCAA Championships, the Golden Bears were one of the dominant forces in the country. Senior Tim McNeill became the most decorated gymnast in program history by winning two national championships - repeating on parallel bars and winning his third title on pommel horse - to bring his career total to five. Several other key gymnasts - senior Tyler Block, junior Kyson Bunthuwong and freshman Kyle Bunthuwong - made their marks on the team to help lead the Bears to a 13-12 overall record.
Regular Season Competition
Cal started the year with a bang by edging school rival and top-ranked Stanford on Jan. 18 at home, 347.250-346.750. The two teams were tied going into the final rotation and Cal's performance on parallel bars gave it the win. Kyson Bunthuwong took first in the all-around (88.45) and his brother Kyle finished second (86.45) in his collegiate debut. The Bears began their reign on parallel bars, which would extend throughout the season, taking second through seventh places. Kyson Bunthuwong was named the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Gymnast of the Week Jan 21 for his performance.
The next week, Cal traveled to the Cardinal's Burnham Pavilion for the Stanford Open (Jan. 26), where it placed second (357.900) behind host Stanford (361.350) but well ahead of Nebraska (333.850). The Bears excelled on pommel horse and won the event thanks to Kyson Bunthuwong's first-place finish (14.800) and Tim McNeill and Colin Christ taking second and third, respectively. Cal's performance on floor (59.750) would be a season high with the Bunthuwongs leading the way.
The team then took a break from official meets but seven Golden Bears traveled to Las Vegas for the Winter Cup Challenge on Jan. 18. Tyler Block, Kyle Brady, Kyson and Kyle Bunthuwong, Colin Christ, Tim McNeill and Evan Roth all participated in the non-team competition. Six Cal gymnasts advanced to the finals, but none received automatic selections to the U.S. Senior National Team, but all put forth strong performances. Kyle Bunthuwong finished 24th in the all-around, McNeill took third overall on pommel horse, and junior Kyson Bunthuwong finished fifth on horizontal bar.
The Bears returned to collegiate competition Feb. 16 in Columbus, Ohio, where Cal earned its second dual-meet victory of the year with a 355.200-351.00 win over No. 7 Ohio State. Kyle Bunthuwong won the all-around with an 88.250, which was an incredible 3.800 points ahead of the second-place finishers. The Bears won pommel horse, rings - which was highlighted by Block taking the event with a 15.150 - parallel bars and high bar to win the meet. Thanks to his all-around performance against the Buckeyes, Kyle was named the MPSF Gymnast of the Week Feb. 18.
Cal next made the short trip to the Oakland Convention Center for the Pacific Coast Collegiate Classic on Feb. 23. The No. 4 Bears took third with 354.400 points behind meet champion No. 1 Stanford (361.650) and second place No. 3 Oklahoma (359.800). California took parallel bars and high bar behind performances from McNeill, who won parallel bars (15.400), and Block, who finished second on h-bar. Senior Aaron Moy had the best score of the night for the Bears on vault with a 15.300 (17th) while senior Kyle Litow was Cal's highest finisher on floor, taking 10th (15.000).
After two weeks, the Bears headed to Stanford on March 8 for a rematch of the season's first meet. Cal beat the top-ranked Cardinal in four events - pommel, rings, parallel bars and high bar - but lost the Big Flip, 356.150-355.650. McNeill won pommel horse (15.400) and was Cal's top finisher on rings, taking second with a then-career-high of 15.00. Parallel bars were the highlight of the night for the Bears, who overpowered Stanford thanks to first-place finishes by McNeill and Christ, each notching a 15.450. Christ took third (14.800) and Block (14.700) was fourth to push Cal over the Cardinal on h-bar, but it was not enough to take the meet. As a result of his strong outing against Stanford, McNeill was the MPSF Gymnast of the Week for March 10.
No. 4 Cal hosted No. 2 Penn State on March 15 for the final meet of the regular season and the Bears upset the Nittany Lions by a large margin, 360.400-351.300. Kyson Bunthuwong took the all-around (90.200) and Cal won pommel horse, rings, p-bars and high bar to cinch the win. The Bears held a 2.300-point lead going into the final two rotations and extended that lead with a strong performance on parallel bars, taking the top five places with Kyson Bunthuwong winning the event (15.650) while Brady, Christ and McNeill all tied for second.
Cal traveled to Lincoln, Neb. on April 5 for the MPSF Championships. McNeill won his signature events - parallel bars (15.800) and pommel horse (15.100) - while Kyson Bunthuwong took first on high bar (14.65) and Christ was second on p-bars with a 15.450. After rotation four, Cal battled in second (238.550), and heading in the last rotation, the Bears were in the lead with 300.300 points, but Oklahoma took the lead behind strong performances from Steven Legendre and Jonathon Horton. Cal took third, just 1.150 points behind second-place Stanford and 3.100 behind the champion Sooners. Following the MPSF Championships, head coach Barry Weiner was named the MSPF co-Coach of the Year for the fifth time in his Cal career.
Next up was what had been in the back of Cal's mind throughout the year: the NCAA Championships at Stanford, April 17-19. The Bears opened the weekend with the team qualifiers, where they placed third behind top-ranked and first-place Stanford and second-place No. 5 Illinois. Kyson Bunthuwong placed third in the all-around and McNeill was second on pommel horse.
Thanks to their performance in the qualifiers, the Bears advanced to the April 18 team championships. Despite finishing the meet on a high note with four gymnasts placing in the top 10, Cal got off to a rough start and could not recover. Three-time national champion McNeill took first place on parallel bars and pommel horse, finishing fifth in the all-around competition. Kyson Bunthuwong finished eighth all-around and Christ tied for third on parallel bars. McNeill (pommel, parallel bars), Tyler Block (rings), Kyle Brady (parallel bars) Kyson (parallel bars) and Christ (parallel bars) all qualified for the individual championships.
The highlight of the evening came when Cal and its No. 1 parallel bars team in the nation ended the competition on p-bars. McNeill won it with a standout performance, notching a 15.550. Christ earned a 15.150 and Kyson Bunthuwong a 15.100, which were good for a tie for third and fifth, respectively. Brady's score of 14.900 was good for a tie for ninth and automatic advancement into Saturday's event finals. The Bears won parallel bars and they finished the championships in fifth place. Oklahoma took first place with 363.200 points, host Stanford finished second at 362.750, and Illinois (359.750) rounded out the top three.
NCAA Individual Championships
The next night, four Golden Bears - McNeill, Christ, Brady and Kyson Bunthuwong - participated in the individual championships. McNeill won NCAA individual championships on pommel horse and parallel bars, which were his third on pommel horse and second on parallel bars in four years at California and brought his career total to five - the most in program school history. McNeill notched a 15.625 on pommel horse and 15.650 on parallel bars to successfully defend his 2007 titles on the same events.
McNeill is the first Bear to win two NCAA titles two years in a row. McNeill's titles on pommel horse and parallel bars were a successful defense of the championships he won in 2007 on those apparati. The two national titles mark the second and third national title that Cal has won in the 2007-08 school year. With his first-place finishes, McNeill earned All-America honors on the events. Christ earned All-America honors on parallel bars, where he took eighth with a 14.275. Kyle Brady also advanced to Saturday evening's individual championships on parallel bars and just missed earning All-America honors with a ninth-place finish of 13.475. Kyson was 10th on p-bars with a 13.200. Tyler Block qualified on still rings and finished ninth, scoring a 15.000, which was just 0.050 points short of All-America status.