As several Cal Olympic sports start up in the new year, it’s time for Golden Medals to track what’s happening in all these programs.
Cal Women’s Gymnastics started the season last Friday night at 4th ranked LSU. Golden Bears debuted 4 fo the 5 freshmen. While the then 8th ranked (now 9th ranked) Cal Bears can’t quite take advantage of two missed vaults by the LSU Tigers to score a huge upset (there is still quite a gap in the starting values of the routines by the Tigers and the Bears, but that’s okay for the beginning of the season), Cal still recorded a total team scores of 195.650 - which is a program record for the highest season opening team total.
Sophomore uneven bars specialist Nina Schank scored the highest of all the Cal Bears on that night, with this uneven bar routine that earned a 9.875 (a mark that was shared with fellow sophomore Emi Watterson).
2018 All-Pac-12 uneven bars honoree Nina Schank proved she's starting strong again in 2019 with this gorgeous routine at LSU for our highest score of the meet! pic.twitter.com/zO1h9Iyoqt— Cal Gymnastics (@CalWGym) January 8, 2019
Bears hit on 23 of 24 routines, but the most memorable one may be that miss - which also turned out to be the last routine of the meet. Freshman Maya Bordas had a courageous save on the balance beam to finish her routine after the near fall.
This weekend, No.9 Cal Women’s Gymnastics will face some stiff competition down in Anaheim against the defending NCAA champs No.2 UCLA, along with Michigan State and No.14 UC Davis. This meet is at Saturday night at 6pm PT.
The home opener for the Bears will be on MLK Day on Monday January 21st against Stanford. That match will be on the Pac-12 Network.
While gymnastics fans will have to wait another week to see the Cal women in Berkeley, the 12th ranked Cal men will start their season on Saturday night from the RSF gym. They will host No.2 Stanford in the first of several meets in the 2019 Cal Benefit Cup.
The meet is scheduled to start at 7pm PT.
Like the Cal women, Cal men’s gymnastics will also be counting on a lot from freshmen. The freshman class of 6 is expected to be a big part of the lineup.
Out of the returning Bears, the ones to watch are sophomore Kyte Crigger and junior Canadian National Team member Aaron Mah.
Regular CGB readers know that I have an affinity for American Ninja Warrior. One of the top competitor in the past 3 seasons is Cal men’s gymnastics alum Sean Bryan. Recent Cal men’s gymnastics grad Yordan Alkesandrov interviewed Sean Bryan for the Cal Quarterly Magazine.
Eager for a new challenge, family members and former Cal teammate Kyle Litow (2004-08), who also competed on the show, encouraged him to try out for ANW in 2016. The application process required aspiring warriors to explain something unique about themselves that would interest viewers.
”The producers found my spiritual background extremely interesting and were fascinated that I lived with Catholic brothers and priests,” said Bryan, who lived at the Don Bosco Hall while in Berkeley.
Bryan arrived at Cal as a transfer following two seasons at Temple. While with the Bears, he helped Cal to fifth-place finishes at the NCAA Championships in 2006 and ‘08.
Competitive gymnastics and American Ninja Warrior are not so different, according to the physics graduate, including the pressures and nerves of performing in front of judges and large crowds are similar. On a personal level, Bryan’s faith helps performance stress. He often refers to a specific prayer that one of his spiritual instructors introduced him to.
”First, I ask the Holy Spirit to come into my heart and to banish any fear, doubt or shame that I may have,” said Bryan, who became more involved in ministry while at Cal through the Newman Hall, a Catholic center near campus. “Fear, doubt and shame are things that completely get in the way of your ability to perform. There is no room for fear when you are trying to perform.”
Also in action this weekend, starting Friday morning, is Cal Women’s Tennis. Golden Bears will be hosting the Cal Winter Invitational (weather permitting) which will allow the players to play as individuals in singles and doubles against the players from Fresno State, Cal Poly, and Saint Mary’s.
3 Cal Bears are ranked in the top 60 in singles from the fall season: senior Olivia Hauger (35th), last year’s No.1 player for the Bears in sophomore Julia Rosenqvist (47th), and last year’s No.2 player for the Bears in sophomore Anna Bright (57th). In doubles, Bright and fellow sophomore Jasie Dunk are ranked 17th in the country.
Golden Bears are expected to win both the singles and the doubles this weekend in this tune-up for the dual meet season.
With the top recruit of the country, Anna Bright, joining the squad from Florida, Cal has scheduled a homecoming for her next weekend when they travel to Gainesville to play the Florida Gators in a tough dual meet on January 23rd.
The ITA kick-off starts the weekend after that when the Bears have to travel to South Carolina to try to earn one of 16 spots for the ITA Indoor Tennis championship to take place in Seattle, Washington this year.
Starting their new year a few days after this weekend is Cal Men’s Tennis. Cal will visit Pacific for the season’s first dual meet on Tuesday, January 15th at noon PT.
Like the Cal women, Cal men also relied heavily on freshmen in the 2017-18 season in a rebuilding year. There are reasons to be optimistic about a big bounce back year in 2018-19, however. In the fall, Cal sophomore Jacob Brumm particularly had a strong season - pairing with freshman Yuta Kikuchi to make a run to the semifinals of the National Fall Championships as well as making it to face a top 300 current ATP pro in the main draws of the MyUTR California Championships.
Women’s Water Polo
Cal women’s water polo has started to prepare for the upcoming season, where they will have to find a way to fill the big holes left by the Hungarian Calympians pair of Dora Antal and Anna Illes. Antal finished her Cal career as the program’s top goal scorer. Bears also graduated Carla Carrega (who really came to her own as a scorer in the 2016 season when Antal/Illes were away to prepare for the Rio 2016 Olympics) and defender Kindred Paul.
Still, Bears have experienced scorers back in Canadian national team member in driver Emma Wright and Dutch national team member in center Kitty Lynn Joustra. Cal keeper Madison Tagg is also experienced in front of the cage. The hope is that the underclassmen will fill the big holes left by the graduated class seamlessly and this won’t be a painful rebuilding year.
Golden Bears are picked to finished 4th in the very tough MPSF conference. The NCAA women’s water polo tournament does have 3 at-large bids, so chances are good that even if Cal is a tier behind USC, Stanford, and UCLA - they will get to play in the championship tournament. Of course, 3rd year head coach Coralie Simmons is building a program that is trying to close the gap between Cal and the other 3 California Pac-12 schools (also the only schools who have ever won the NCAA title in Women’s Water Polo). Golden Bears took a big step toward closing that gap in 2018, but graduated a lot of talent.
Then again, this season will also be a big proving ground to showcase Simmons’ recruiting prowess. Between the sophomores who haven’t earned play time last year and this year’s freshmen, there will be a lot of young players looking to make big impacts on the team this year. Should be a very interesting season.
The season will starts for Cal Women’s Water Polo in January 26-27 as the Bears host the Cal Cup from Spieker Aquatics Complex.