STANFORD, Calif. – For an unprecedented fourth time this season, the No. 19 California women’s gymnastics team posted above a 196 but still fell to No. 10 Stanford, 196.750-196.025 Monday night in Cardinal territory. The Bears are now 7-6 overall and 1-5 in Pac-12 competition.
This is the first season in Cal’s history that the team has scored 196 or better in four meets. The 2003 women’s gymnastics squad did it thrice on its way to a fourth-place finish at NCAA Regionals. At Stanford, the team delivered what is now becoming a regular score for the Bears despite several key injuries -- notably a broken toe for all-arounder Jessica Howe’s and strained back for beam and floor competitor Desiree Palomares.
“We were a little unsure about our lineups with a few injuries the past couple of weeks. We were unsure to what the changes would do because we had established a pretty good rhythm, but we were confident everyone was prepared,” said California head coach Justin Howell. “I was very pleased for our girls, our fans and for Stanford to see we were right there with them. We can compete with anyone in the Pac-12, and in the nation.”
Despite some clear mistakes on top of the injuries, the Bears still succeeded in posting another high score that will help improve the team’s regional qualifying average.
“We know now if we go out and have some mistakes, we can still be a 196 team. And when all cylinders are firing, we’re a high 196 team. That’s where we want to be,” Howell said. “It gives all of us a big boost of confidence as well as raises the level of expectation.”
Cal opened the meet with a strong 49.125 on the uneven bars, the team's second-highest score on bars this season. Senior Dallas Crawford paced the Bears with a 9.85 to finish third on the event, while freshmen Howe and Charlie Owens and senior Leilani Alferos all earned a score of 9.825. Freshman Emily Richardson, who has been rock solid leading off on bars all season, matched her career-high 9.80.
“Emily started us off with a strong 9.8, and everyone fed off of that,” Howell said. “Everyone on bars was a standout tonight. As a bar team, they all did their job, and it showed Stanford that we were coming out strong and we were right there with them keeping up.”
As a team, the Bears posted another high score on vault, using a 49.100 for their second-highest vault score of the season. Crawford matched her career-high 9.875 to lead the Bears once again, and Asturias and sophomore Serena Leong followed close behind with a pair of 9.85s.
The Bears dropped off slightly in the latter half of the meet, finishing with a 48.900 on both floor and beam. On floor, Asturias posted a season-high 9.85 for the fifth time in 2014. Freshman Zoe Draghi, who had previously only exhibitioned on floor, scored a 9.775 in her competitive debut on the event.
Freshman Dana Ho joined Draghi in her competitive debut, performing in the beam lineup with a 9.475 in her initial outing. The highlight of the event was Owens’ beam routine as she produced a career-high 9.875 and claimed her first-ever title on the event.
Asturias was the runner-up in the all-around with a 39.275 and Owens finished behind her in third with a 38.925 total. Despite nursing a broken toe, Howe fought through all four events for a 38.150 and fifth-place finish.
“For Jessie to go out there and run and punch and jump is pretty impressive, and it just really shows something about her character,” Howell said.
Although the night didn’t end with a win, Howell was proud of the team’s ever-growing confidence and resolve despite missteps and mistakes.
“We’ve focused a lot lately on the idea of privilege and competing because it is a privilege and loving what you do. Being able to feel this athletic pressure on top of the academic pressure of attending a university like Cal is a privilege. Not everybody has that opportunity. We need to embrace that rather than be scared of it, and the girls are really starting to own it,” Howell said.
The Bears face a quick turnaround this week, heading to Kentucky next for a meet on Friday. The action begins at 4 p.m. PT.
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