MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Though Cal was less than a point shy of clinching a berth to the 2014 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, seniors Alicia Asturias and Dallas Crawford still punched their tickets to Birmingham with top finishes at the NCAA Minneapolis Regional. Cal finished fourth with a 195.700 behind regional champion Oklahoma (197.725), Illinois (196.600) and Minnesota (195.825). Southern Utah (195.150) finished fifth and San Jose State (193.950) finished sixth.
"I feel like coming into this meet we had a lot of confidence, and that’s a much different perspective than we had last year," said Cal head coach Justin Howell. "Last year, coming in, we felt like, ‘Okay. We made it and this is the end of the line.’ This year, we came in with a lot of confidence based on our previous performances that we’ve had all season and our great, strong finish at Pac-12. We felt like we really belonged. We felt like we really had a chance to make it into the top two."
Crawford was the regional’s bar champion after matching her career-high 9.925 and will compete in NCAA Individual competition at the national championships in Birmingham, Ala. on April 18-20. As one of the top two all-arounders (not on an advancing team), Asturias will also get her turn to compete for the NCAA All-Around title after posting a 39.200 on her four events.
"One of our major goals coming in from a coaching perspective was that we wanted to have representation at nationals, whether it was from the team or individuals. It was a really special night to have Dallas and Alicia qualify," Howell said. "What a great way for them to finish out their gymnastics careers and their senior years in college and represent this program in Birmingham at an NCAA Championship for the first time since 2003."
Freshmen Charlie Owens and Jessica Howe also competed on all four events, with Owens tallying a 39.100 and Howe earning a 39.050. Asturias' all-around score was third overall, Owens was fourth and Howe was sixth.
Cal’s team score of 195.700 is the highest score the program has produced at NCAA Regional competition, topping the team’s previous best of 195.175 in 2004.
Howell was named the NACGC West Region Coach of the Year, Asturias was Gymnast of the Year and sports supervisor and associate athletic director Ryan Cobb was named Administrator of the Year.
Cal's starting event, the floor exercise, was shaky as freshman Zoe Draghi started the Bears off with a 9.25 after stepping out of bounds. Owens helped recover some of the lost points with a 9.80, but Asturias stepped out of bounds on her final pass to force the Bears to count a 9.675. Cal's latter half of the floor rotation fared better with solid scores of 9.80 by Howe, 9.75 by sophomore Serena Leong and 9.80 by junior Crystal Paz to combine for a 48.825 team score.
The second rotation featured much more production from the Bears, who garnered a 49.125 team score on vault. Sophomore Kristina Heymann set the tone with a 9.75 opener, and Owens and Howe followed with a 9.80 and 9.75, respectively. Crawford scored a 9.825 and Leong scored a 9.85 before Asturias earned a much-deserved 9.90 after a beautiful vault topped off by a strong stuck landing.
While the Bears headed to the locker room for a bye before the uneven bars, the dogfight that many predicted played out in rotation three. While Oklahoma pulled away with a 98.575 after its two events, Illinois (98.050), Cal (97.950) and Minnesota (97.925) all sat within reach of the coveted second spot. Southern Utah (97.525) and San Jose State (97.075) trailed slightly behind.
The Bears stayed in the hunt with a 49.200 on bars for the team's second-highest score on the event this season. Though freshman Emily Richardson started with a rocky 9.525, Howe hit the following set with a 9.825 and the Bears never looked back. Owens put up a 9.75 and Asturias and senior Leilani Alferos each earned 9.85s, but the highlight of the event was Crawford's 9.925 to match her career-high on bars.
Despite producing the second-highest beam score in program history (49.275) several weeks ago at the Pac-12 Championships, Cal could not replicate the magic in Minneapolis, tallying a 48.550. Asturias started the event with a 9.675, which was later petitioned to a 9.775, and the scores continued in a similar fashion from Owens (9.75) and Palomares (9.725). Leong's 9.125 from a fall on beam was thrown out, but a 9.675 from Howe and a 9.625 from beam anchor Paz was not enough to lift the Bears above the 49.0 mark.
"This particular regional was incredibly tough, with a lot of great talented teams. It was a real fight down to the last rotation, which made it really exciting," Howell said. "Unfortunately, we had some mistakes and weren’t able to close the deal as a team but overall we had a lot of fight and I was really proud of their performance. We had a long, grueling season and for us to finish the way that we did is a huge accomplishment."
Oklahoma and Illinois will advance to national championship team competition, joining Michigan, Georgia, Utah, UCLA, Florida, LSU, Alabama, Nebraska, Penn State and Stanford. The NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships are set for April 18-20 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). All 12 teams will compete Friday to try to earn a spot at Saturday’s Super Six, and the top individuals will compete for All-America distinction on Sunday.
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