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No.8 Cal Women’s Gymnastics edged by No.4 LSU in season opener

The meet is streamable online for those who gets SEC Network on their TV.

Cal Women’s Gymnastics Twitter

It was the collegiate debuts for several Golden Bears tonight at a very packed house at No.4 LSU. Nonetheless, the young Bears were undaunted and put on a show that almost rival that of the home squad Tigers. 14 different Golden Bears made their season debut today as the Bears spread the routines around (no one Bears qualified for the all-around) to give more gymnasts experiences.

Bears hit on 23 of 24 routines while the Tigers had 3 misses on their side (only 1 of them had to count in the final total). Still, the higher difficulty routines on the other routines kept 4th ranked LSU in front at the end.

LSU edges Cal 196.775 to 195.650. The 195.650 total is actually a better result than Cal’s 1st team total of the 2018 season (195.475).

Bears will next compete from Anaheim next weekend against a field that includes the top ranked and NCAA defending champs UCLA. Bears will host rival Stanford on Martin Luther King’s Day on Monday January 21st in their home debut.


A potential historic season will flip off on Friday night for the 8th ranked Cal Women’s Gymnastics. Building on years of steady improvements, is the program ready to face the challenge of expectation?

Golden Bears are picked to finish 3rd in a very competitive Pac-12 where UCLA Bruins are the reigning NCAA champs. Out of the 8 schools with Women’s Gymnastics in the Pac-12, 7 of them are ranked in the top 25 in the preseason poll. UCLA is 1st; Utah is 5th; Cal is 8th; Washington is 15th; Oregon State is 17th; Arizona State is 20th; Stanford is 21st. Only Arizona is unranked. The preseason ranking order also reflects the finish at the 2018 Pac-12 Championships.

Perfect blend of youth and experience?

Rising on the national stage, Golden Bears have had better and better recruiting class each year. This year’s talented youngsters include 5 impact gymnasts in Grace Quinn, Maya Bordas, Milan Clausi, Talitha Jones, and Abi Solari. Solari is a member of the Great Britain national team while the 4 Americans have extensive Junior Olympics (which apparently is just a US only AAU event) experiences. Bears only graduated 3 key seniors (filling 6 rotation spots) that competed at the National Championships. The official Cal Athletics release says that all 3 freshmen of Milan Clausi, Abi Solari, and Talitha Jones has 10.0 start values on vaults.

The fierce-some five-some will join an experienced Cal squad that placed 9th overall as a team at the NCAA Championships in 2018. Leading the Golden Bears is 5th year senior in Jamaican Calympian in Toni-Ann Williams who competed in the Rio 2016 games. Williams missed the bulk of her junior season in 2017 with a ruptured achilles. Bears also return sophomore Kyana George, who competed as the other All-Around gymnast for the Bears last year (though Williams was held out of the floor exercise of several meets to give the younger gymnasts more experience); George has the distinction as the only Cal Bears with a gymnast move named after her (The “George” is a “triple wolf turn” on the beam).

Other experienced gymnasts on the squad include seniors: the Seilnacht twins (Sofie and Sylvie) and Chelsea Shu, juniors Cassidy Keelen, and sophomores Emi Watterson (who has international experience with Australian) and Nina Schank. All of the listed Bears have done at least one routine at the NCAA championships. Schank ranked 20th in the country on the uneven bars last year while Sofie Seilnacht was 49th in the country on the balance beam.

One of the more interesting reveal on Friday is the rotation for the Golden Bears, although that’s likely to evolve as the season progresses. For each of the 4 events (vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor), 6 gymnasts will compete officially with the top 5 scores counting toward the final team total. Typically, an extra gymnast will get to perform under the unofficial status for each event as well.

Coaching promotion and a new hire

There is no denying that the coaching duo of Justin Howell and Liz Crandall-Howell have transformed the program from the days of it being on the 2010 cut list at Cal. The married pair had originally been with Justin Howell as the head coach and his wife Liz Crandall-Howell at a lesser (in name and pay) coaching position. Everything changed this offseason when Liz Crandall-Howell is elevated to co-head coach. It’s a step toward solving the grander issue of how female head coaches are still a minority in women’s collegiate sports.

The program also got some extra money (likely due to the recent success) to hire a new assistant coach in Janelle McDonald. McDonald is coming over with 6 years experience at the Texas based WOGA and more experience coaching at Arizona prior to that.

No.4 LSU Tigers is a women’s gymnastics power house

Unless it’s the last rotation and the Bears have a shot to pull off a monumental upset like against Utah last year, the lineup is typically set ahead of time and there is not so much strategy (Bears inserted Toni-Ann Williams for the last floor exercise where her 9.95 gave the Bears the win in that meet). Otherwise, there is not that much strategy about who is on the other side (other than to enjoy their performances).

Nevertheless, LSU Tigers are the 4th ranked squad in the preseason coaches’ poll. It’s a good opportunity for the Cal Bears to score another potential big upset.

Cal Women’s Gymnastics at LSU

Where: Pete Maravich Assembly Center (Baton Rouge, LA)

When: 5:10 pm PT

Online: SECN+