LEXINGTON, Ky. – The hosting Kentucky Wildcats edged the Golden Bear women’s gymnastics team by just .075 of a point to defeat Cal 196.150-196.075 in a triangular meet with Centenary College Friday evening in Memorial Coliseum. Centenary finished third with a 189.625. Despite posting a program-best fifth score above 196.0, Cal falls to 7-7 overall (1-5 Pac-12). It was the team’s second meet in five days as Cal improved its score by .05 from Monday’s meet at Stanford.
“We knew this meet was going to be challenging. Not only was the turnaround time so fast, but there were other obstacles such as injuries and travel time, so there were a lot of lessons to be learned,” said California head coach Justin Howell. “We handled that adversity really well. Everyone is tired, but we went out and did our job. It's business. We love what we do and we're going to go out and do it for those who can’t. We're not trying to do anything fancy and do things we don't do in training.”
The Bears claimed a stake in the top three in every event in the total-team effort, with senior Alicia Asturias leading the Bears with titles on both vault and floor and a third-place all-around finish (39.125). Freshman Charlie Owens shined, matching her career-high on bars and setting a new personal best on floor to claim second in the all-around with a 39.200. Senior Leilani Alferos claimed her first uneven parallel bars title.
“Yes, it would have been nice to come away with a win, but really what we set out to do was post another 196 to continue to improve our regional qualifying score, and we did our job,” Howell said.
Cal’s first effort, on bars, was a solid one as the team produced a 49.050 and Owens matched a career-high 9.85 to claim second on the event. Alferos matched her personal best of 9.875 as well, claiming her first career event title.
The team continued onto beam, where the Bears struggled to post scores better than 9.775. Half of the six-person lineup posted scores of 9.70 or lower, forcing the Bears to count a 9.625 in their 48.550 team total, but found bright spots with Alferos’ 9.725-worthy collegiate debut on beam and freshman Desiree Palomares’ third-place 9.775.
On floor, Cal’s third event, Owens set a career-high 9.875 and Asturias matched a career-high 9.90 to be crowned floor champion. The 49.150 was a welcome improvement from the previous rotation, and put the Bears ahead of Kentucky 146.750-146.725 heading into the final rotation.
The Bears rode their floor momentum into their final rotation on vault, peaking with a season-high 49.325, which matched the program’s second-highest vault team score in history, although Cal only competed with five gymnasts in the lineup to give regular competitors rest. Junior Kristi Heymann, back for just her third meet of the season, matched a career-high 9.875, and senior Dallas Crawford used the same score to match her own personal best. The pair shared third place with sophomore Serena Leong, and Asturias earned the title with a 9.925.
“Vault was amazing tonight. We vaulted out of the gym with great landings, and we were rewarded for it,” Howell said. “Our plan was to go five-up, five-count, and we did. They all just vaulted lights out.”
Despite scoring higher than the Wildcats on two of the four events and matching Kentucky’s beam score, UK finished with a .275 edge over Cal’s floor score and claimed the tri-meet victory.
The Blue and Gold return to Berkeley to close out the non-championship portion of the season with a co-ed dual meet featuring the Cal women against UC Davis, and Cal men’s gymnastics hosting Washington. The meet is set for Saturday, March 15 at 7 p.m.
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