This is it!
The Cal Women’s Gymnastics program has been on the path of steady improvement ever since Justin Howell took over the program in 2013 after it was briefly on the chopping block back in 2010.
While this would be the team’s 2nd NCAA team appearance in 3 years (where the Bears finished 7th in 2016), that appearance happened with the Bears’ best gymnast - Toni-Ann Williams away because the Olympic qualification was the same weekend. Otherwise, this would be the 5th straight year where the Golden Bears will have some presence at the NCAA national championships. Last year, Desiree Palomares competed as an individual beam specialist at the NCAA (in a season where Williams had a season ending Achilles injury early - but for which she has earned another year of eligibility next year). This would be the program’s 3rd overall trip as a team to the NCAA national championships with 1992 being that other appearance.
The goal is for the Bears to earn a spot in Saturday’s Super Six final. To accomplish this, the California Golden Bears would need to finish in the top 3 in a loaded 2nd semifinal against No.1 Oklahoma (winner last year), No.4 Florida, No.5 Utah (a squad that the Bears had beat in a regular season dual), No.8 Washington (who the Bears best at the Pac-12 championship), and No.12 Kentucky. Golden Bears are seeded No.9 in the country with a RQS (based on some average of team scores) of 196.890; Bears are capable of breaking that 197 point barrier and likely would need to do that to have a shot to advance (for reference, Bears scored a 197.5 in the regular season to edge Utah in a historic win).
Tomorrow at 4 p.m. PT. Who's ready for it?— Cal Gymnastics (@CalWGym) April 20, 2018
ESPNU will have the action live, starting at 4 pm PT.
The squad has arrived at St. Louis for a few days now. It does appear that the team is enjoying filming stuff for the national TV broadcast while still preparing for what would hopefully be their peak performances of the season.
After another record breaking regular season, Cal Bears booked a spot in this national championship by placing 2nd in the Salt Lake City Regional behind host Utah Red Rocks. Golden Bears had a great day at the Regional but a last routine hiccup did slightly left the door ajar for Auburn to possibly pass them on their last routine. Alas, the Tigers did not get a perfect 10 to give the Bears a team berth in this weekend’s festivities.
The Golden Bears will start the semifinal with a bye before their floor routines. Then, they will rotate in Olympic order from floor to vault, bye, uneven bars, and the balance beam last. While some squad might fret about having to do beam in the highest pressure situation, the Bears have thrived on the beam in recent years, including this year’s program best outing of 49.400 in that event.
The individual event titles and the all-around title will be crowned based upon the Friday results alone. Golden Bears have yet to claim any NCAA individual championship in program history. Bears have had some gymnasts earning All-American status for finishing in the top 8 in the country, however. The 2018 squad is certainly capable of adding to that list.
If you are completely new to Cal Women’s Gymnastics, the gymnast to watch is clearly redshirt junior Toni-Ann Williams who became the first gymnast to represent Jamaica at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Williams is the Bears’ best All-Around threat, capable of getting 9.90 in all 4 events.
The strength of the 2018 squad is its depth, however. 29 of the 32 routines have scored at least a 9.80 this year. This also gives the coaching staff (Justin Howell and his wife Liz Crandall-Howell) a lot of options to pick the 24 competing routines (where only 20 of them counts for the team competition as the worst score from each rotation is dropped).
Freshman Kyana George is the Bears’ other all-arounder and the budding superstar in the program.
This was the lineup for the NCAA Regional, where freshman Emi Watterson was the latest Bear to crack the lineup by competing in the uneven bars (over fellow freshman Alma Kuc). It is a lineup with a nice balance of experience and youth with members from every class.
Best of luck to Cal Women’s Gymnastics today. Unlike swimming where peaking at the NCAA national championships is much easier to quantify, the hope is still that the Golden Bears are peaking this weekend. With that program best 197.500 outing earlier this year, the metaphorical bar is set quite high for the team to vault past that for a program best team score at the biggest stage of the season.
2018 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships
When: April 20th for semifinal; April 21st for final
Semifinal 1: 10 pm PT
Semifinal 2: 4 pm PT (Cal will be in Semifinal 2)
Super Six Final: 4 pm PT on April 21st
Where: Chaifex Arena (St. Louis, MO)