NORMAN, Okla. – Despite a slow start, the No. 9 California Golden Bears placed third at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Championships in Norman, Okla. on Saturday with a score of 427.150. They finished behind top-ranked Oklahoma (446.100), No. 3 Stanford (435.700) and ahead of tenth-ranked Air Force (425.650) at McCasland Field House on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. The Bears were led by redshirt senior and Nissen-Emery Award finalist Donothan Bailey, who won the conference title on pommel horse with a 14.900 on the apparatus. He also finished third in the all-around competition with a total score of 86.700. Sophomore Kyle Zemeir was also a key component of the Bears’ success, placing second in the all-around, besting his teammate with a career-best score of 87.500.
Though they also finished third each of the last two years at the MPSF Championships, marked improvement between the three years is evident for the Bears, posting a much higher team score this time around, after notching a 419.550 in Colorado Springs last year in the first year of the new scoring system.
“This meet really felt like we had a great week of preparation,” said Associate Head Coach Brett McClure following the meet on Saturday from Norman. “Mike Tyson has a saying; ‘everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face,’ and it was one of the worst starts that we’ve had this year. It was rattling, a bit unnerving and it was going to test this team to see how they were going to come back from it. The guys scrapped on high bar after a difficult start on parallel bars. The fact that they stayed on the high bar, really triggered the feeling that they were in this meet now, and it was time to do their job.”
It was the worst of starts for Cal, as they stumbled out of the gate in their first rotation on parallel bars. They posted a team score of 70.250, and were it not for stellar performances by Zemeir, who scored a career-best 15.150 and junior co-captain Jon Liu’s 15.050, things could have been dire early. Stanford won the event behind an incredible performance by all-around champion, freshman Akash Modi (89.650), who posted a 15.800 on the apparatus.
California’s struggles continued on high bar, and were quickly behind the eight ball, as well as the three other teams. They scored a 70.050 on the apparatus as a team, which was third behind Stanford’s 73.850 and Oklahoma’s 71.750. Sophomore Kevin Wolting led the way for the Golden Bears, posting a 14.500, but other Bears struggled, including Bailey, who posted an uncharacteristic 13.150. The MPSF Champion on high bar was Stanford redshirt senior Paul Hichwa, who tallied a 15.450 in his hit routine.
“They went on to floor exercise and killed it,” McClure added. “The guys then did a great job on pommel horse, were very solid on rings and though there was a scare on vault with Christian, we closed it out well with Jeff anchoring it with a great vault. I wasn’t completely happy with the overall performance, but there were definitely some highlights, including a great performance by Don on pommel horse.”
The rebound for the Bears began on floor exercise, arguably their best rotation of the day, as they posted a 73.050, second only to Oklahoma’s incredible 76.300. Zemeir equaled his personal best with a 15.150 with a fantastic routine, leading the way for Cal. Bailey also bounced back with a very solid routine that garnered a score of 15.100 from the judges. Sophomore Ryan Patterson was also key for California, earning a 15.000, lifting the Bears back into the meet. Oklahoma senior Raymond White claimed the conference championship with a 15.500, as part of the incredible performance by the Sooners.
Bailey captured the MPSF Championship on pommel horse with a routine that earned a 14.900 for the Bears. The team posted a score of 70.600, led by both Bailey and sophomore Takahiro Kawada, who finished right behind his teammate and tied for second overall with a 14.850. The top-ranked Sooners claimed the team title for pommel horse with a 73.100.
Cal continued to creep closer to third place and the Air Force Falcons in their fifth rotation, scoring a total of 71.450 on still rings as a team. The back end of the rotation was incredibly strong, pushing momentum forth into the sixth and final event. Bailey (14.800), Zemeir (14.700) and redshirt senior Jeffrey Langenstein (14.750) anchored a strong performance for California. Oklahoma’s Michael Squires stole the show in front of his home crowd, posting an eye-popping 16.300 to capture the event MPSF Championship, and carried the Sooners to the team title on rings as well (75.950).
The Golden Bears finally caught and surpassed the Falcons in the final rotation of the day, posting a 71.750 on vault. Despite a scare on redshirt senior Christian Monteclaro’s attempt where his hand slipped, Cal were led by Langenstein, who closed out the competition with a hit, scoring a 14.850, while Patterson (14.750) and Zemeir (14.500) were also strong. The conference title for vault will be staying with the Sooners in Norman, as sophomore Kanji Oyama seized the championship with a 15.300 routine.
“We have to get a little bit tougher mentally,” McClure said. “This is an opportunity to really practice that over the next two weeks as we get ready for NCAA’s, so we will see how they handle it.”
California is off next week in preparation for the NCAA team qualifiers on Thursday, April 10 in Ann Arbor, Mich. on the campus of the University of Michigan.