After securing its first Pac-12 regular-season championship, Cal women’s gymnastics will look to continue its record-breaking year. The next goal: a conference title at the Pac-12 championships Saturday.
“We’re just really excited to go out there and do the same thing we did today,” said senior Nina Schank after Sunday’s meet against Iowa, during which the Bears recorded season-best bars and beam scores en route to a season-high 197.9. “If we just stay present and do what we know how to do and what we’ve been training for all season, the score will come; there's no need to focus on it.”
The Bears, who with a national qualifying score of 197.22 are the No. 2 seed, beat out No. 1 seed Utah earlier in the season. But with a strong slate of competition ahead, Cal is not only vying for the crown but also fending off teams to be at the very least the runner-up. If the Bears stumble, another team will likely be there to take their place.
For the first time ever, all four teams in the evening session own a share of the regular-season championship. Utah, Cal, Oregon State and Arizona State all enter Saturday with 5-2 conference records and have each lost to at least one other team in the same session: Utah to Cal, Cal to Arizona State, Oregon State to Cal and Utah, Arizona State to Utah and Oregon State.
Despite upset losses to Cal and Arizona during the regular season, the championship is still Utah’s to lose. The Red Rocks have remained among the nation’s top four the entire season and was one of three teams March 4 to post a 198.575 — a score that ties for the fourth highest in history and is the highest the country has seen this year.
Aside from Utah, only one other team in the Pac-12 posted a 198 during the regular season. No. 5 seed UCLA hit 198.05 during its March 6 meet against Cal, spoiling the Bears’ sole ownership of the Pac-12 regular-season title. In recent weeks, the Bruins have arguably experienced the greatest growth in the conference, achieving numbers remarkably different from their 194.85 season opening score. Their position in the afternoon session, however, allows Utah, Cal, Oregon State and Arizona State to see the score to beat when they enter the evening session Saturday.
For individual titles, Oregon State’s Jade Carey will be the gymnast to watch. The Olympic gold medalist for Team USA has scored 9.9-plus in 34 out of 36 routines this season and reached perfection three times, earning two 10s on floor and one on bars. The freshman phenom is No. 1 in the country in the all-around and on bars, tied for No. 3 on floor, No. 5 on vault and No. 11 on beam.
“Honestly, I just feel honored to be in the same arena as her, and it was really cool to watch her compete,” said senior all-arounder Maya Bordas about Carey after Cal’s Jan. 29 meet against OSU. “She’s super inspiring and a super powerful athlete.”
Ranked first in the all-around and on every event except beam in the Pac-12, Carey could very well sweep every individual title in Utah. At the very least, she is projected to bring home multiple wins, even if the Beavers do not clinch the championship.
Another gymnast to look out for will be UCLA’s Jordan Chiles, who also competed for Team USA at the 2020 Olympic Games. Like Carey, the freshman has three perfect 10s under her belt: two on floor and one on bars. But of the two Olympians, Carey remains the standout thus far and has large shoes to fill Saturday.
For the Bears, all eyes will be on Bordas, sophomore Andi Li and junior Nevaeh DeSouza in the all-around. Bordas, the reigning national champion on bars, is coming off of a career-high performance on Senior Day. She, Li and DeSouza are ranked fourth, fifth and seventh in the conference, respectively, with Li also being tied for No. 2 on bars and No. 6 on floor.
Senior Grace Quinn, Cal’s longtime floor anchor, is No. 4 on her event and will likely leave a mark at the championships.
National qualifying scores which determine seeding for NCAA regionals, are calculated with a team’s six best scores from the season, three of which must be from away meets. After only achieving one 197-plus score in their three road meets in a row, the Bears will seek a high score in Utah to keep or improve their national ranking of No. 10.
In a new environment without the roar of a home crowd, teams generally do not perform as well in road meets. For one Bear, however, the championships will feel like familiar territory.
“Pac-12 championships is in my hometown, so it's always one of my favorite meets,” said senior Milan Clausi, who was named the Pac-12 Specialist of the Week after posting a 9.925 on beam and 9.95 on floor Sunday. “I get to see a lot of family and perform in front of family and friends, and so it’s the closest thing to competing at home, and I love that.”
This meet will mark the final Pac-12 performance for Clausi and for all of the seniors who are chasing the conference crown.
The Pac-12 championships will be Saturday at 1 p.m. (afternoon session) and 6 p.m. (evening session) Mountain time at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah. Tickets are currently on sale, and fans in Berkeley can watch the championships on the Pac-12 Network at noon and 5 p.m.
Mia Wachtel covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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