FORT WORTH, Texas - Making only their second team appearance at the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships in school history, the Golden Bears were what some around the country would consider an unknown entity at an event that's only had six champions in its 35-year history. The "new kids on the block" proved their place among the nation's top 12 teams was not a fluke by taking fourth in their semifinal session and seventh overall Friday evening at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
SEATTLE, Wash. - Two runs in the first inning staked the Cal softball team to an early lead but No. 9/11-ranked Washington pulled even with a pair of runs in the middle innings and a home run by Taylor Van Zee in the bottom of the seventh proved the difference as the Bears fell 3-2.
Cal (20-16-1, 5-6-1 Pac-12) wasted no time getting on the scoreboard Friday, loading the bases in the top of the first thanks to singles by Jazmyn Jackson and Kylie Reed as well as a walk by Annie Aldrete. Washington pitcher Taran Alvelo got the next two outs without surrendering a run, but a wild pitch brought Jackson home and Khala Taylor used her speed to plate another, beating out a chopper in front of the plate to extend the inning and score Reed.
Washington got a run back in the third inning and another in the fourth to even the score. A leadoff single by Van Zee got the Huskies started in the third and, after a one-out wild pitch moved her to third, Dani Braun sliced a double into left-center field to score the run and make it 2-1. A solo home run by Kimberlee Souza with one out in the fourth provided the other run and the teams went to the fifth tied at 2.
That's where the score stayed until the seventh, and after Washington pitcher Casey Stangel retired the Bears in order in the top of the inning, Van Zee provided the game's biggest blow. She sent a 1-2 pitch from Nisa Ontiveros over the wall in center for the game-winning run, giving the Huskies the late-inning victory in the first game of the series.
There's a good feeling around the Cal football program and plenty of reasons for it.
The Golden Bears' seven-win turnaround over the last two seasons that culminated with the team's first bowl win in seven years is tied for the second best in school history and the best in over 65 years.
Student-athletes have made great strides in the classroom as evidenced by an immediate improvement in single-year APR scores that measure academic progress and will be further displayed by one of the best single-year APR scores in the program's history when the latest numbers are officially announced next Wednesday.
Former quarterback Jared Goff is in serious consideration to become the second player in Cal history to be selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft the following week.
All of this and much more helped earn head coach Sonny Dykes a contract extension in January but the biggest reason for the good feeling might just be the competitive culture that Dykes and his fellow coaches foster that permeates throughout the team's players.
"Competition forces people to be at their best every day," Dykes said. "It teaches them how to deal with adversity and bounce back quickly because they know that if they don't bounce back quickly and perform at a high level then somebody else will have their job. It makes all of us better. When you have to compete every day and earn your job all that does is make you better and make our team better."