SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The preseason-ranked No. 22 California women’s gymnastics team tallied the second-highest score (194.650) in a season opener in program history to claim second at the five-team NorCal Meet at the Nest in Sacramento on Sunday afternoon. No. 9 Stanford edged the Bears by the slightest of margins with a 194.825 to finish first, while Cal finished ahead of Sacramento State (194.40), UC Davis (193.450) and San Jose State (193.325). Cal is now 37-50 in season openers.
“We did exactly what we set out to do today. We wanted to go out and compete exactly like we trained, and we did that,” said California head coach Justin Howell. “There are areas we can improve for sure, but we competed with a lot of confidence tonight and didn’t count a fall, so I was excited about that.”
The meet came down to the final rotation as the Bears led 194.650 entering a fifth-rotation bye, just a slight lead over the Cardinal and Hornets. Stanford needed above a 48.875 and Sacramento State needed above a 48.775 to take the lead from the Bears, and Stanford delivered. Still, Howell was pleased with the team’s finish as Cal claimed six top-three titles, led by senior Alicia Asturias’ three first-place finishes.
“Alicia showed a veteran performance again. Her confidence really started to build and build last year, and I already see it this year,” Howell said. “We’re picking up right where we left off with her. I expect it to be a great year for her. What a way to finish her senior year with this team and where we’re going and to compete with joy and confidence.”
Cal used four of its eight newcomers in the meet as Charlie Owens, Emily Richardson, who began practicing with the team in December, Desiree Palomares and Jessica Howe all made their debuts for the Blue and Gold. Owens joined veteran all-arounder Asturias in all four events as Owens finished with a 38.950 total to claim second all-around.
“Our freshmen all looked like veterans out there. They just had so much fun, and that was fun for us to watch and see them compete with a lot of confidence,” Howell said.
Asturias was the afternoon’s all-around champion, finishing with a 39.175.
The Bears opened the five-rotation meet on the uneven bars with a solid showing of 48.675 after hitting five-for-five. Senior captain Dallas Crawford led the team with a 9.825 to claim third on the event. Redshirt senior Leilani Alferos, who transferred from Oregon State after the 2011 season, made her debut in a lineup for the Bears with a 9.75 on bars.
Next, the Bears headed to beam where they put together another strong team total. Asturias set a new career-high and claimed the event title with her team-leading 9.85 routine, besting her previous high of 9.8 set last season against Nebraska. All three freshmen in the beam lineup also impressed with scores of 9.70 or above, as Owens registered a 9.775, Palomares earned a 9.725 and Howe earned a 9.70.
With bars and beam complete after the second rotation, Cal moved into first place with a 97.425 and nearly a half-point edge over second-place Stanford at 96.90.
The Cardinal tightened the lead in the third rotation, cutting Cal’s lead to just one-tenth of a point at 145.875-145.775. The Bears got off to a shaky start with two 9.45s but didn’t lose focus and recovered with a trio of strong performances from Howe (9.75), Asturias (9.85) and Owens (9.75), and Asturias claimed her third title of the night.
“I think we did a great job of staying in our team bubble,” Howe said. “The energy made it so much more fun.”
Determined to get back on track in their final event, the Bears stepped up and produced their strongest display of the night, tallying a 48.775 on vault. Returning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Serena Leong claimed first place on the event with a 9.825, and all four of Cal’s counted scores were 9.725 or higher as junior Maddie Kratzke and Asturias earned a pair of 9.725s and Crawford and Owens produced a pair of 9.750s.
With one more rotation to go as Cal headed into the bye, Stanford needed above a 48.875 and Sacramento State needed above a 48.775 to take the lead from the Bears. The Cardinal finished with a 49.050 for the win.
“That was the very first arena I had my first gym meet ever, so it was like coming full-circle having my first meet of my last season there,” Asturias said. “I can't imagine a better way to start the season in that arena surrounded by all of my favorite people.”
Cal is set for another weekend on the road with a meet at Denver on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 6 p.m. before the Bears return home to host Utah at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17 in Haas Pavilion.
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