No. 11 Bears Open 2021 Campaign Vs. ASU
BERKELEY – Adapting to new challenges during a global pandemic has been one of the preseason objectives for the No. 11 California men's gymnastics team as the Golden Bears prepare to open the 2021 campaign by hosting Arizona State on Saturday, Jan. 30, at 4:30 p.m. from the Golden Bear Rec.
Saturday's meet will be a virtual meet. Fans should click here to watch the live stream and follow live stats of the meet. Due to local health guidelines, fans are not allowed to attend home meets.
One of the unexpected hurdles during preseason practices for head coach JT Okada has been the inability to see his gymnast's facial expression after a routine due to everyone in the facility wearing masks. The Bears also can't immediately see whether or not he's pleased with their work on first glance.
"It's safe to say that my dry humor does not come across effectively because they can't see my face behind a mask," Okada said lightheartedly. "They can't see me laughing or smiling. In fact, a few times now I've had to tell them that under this mask I've had a lot of smiles. I didn't realize how much I've relied on looking at somebody's facial reactions and you can't do that this year."
Another challenge has been preparing the Bears for a season when everybody returned to Berkeley at different paces. Some of Cal's gymnasts were able to continue training during the pandemic, while others couldn't train for months.
A pleasant surprise thus far for Okada has been the effort of Jelani Sweet. The freshman who hails from Hackensack, N.J., wasn't able to train much during the pandemic. In addition, he missed an hour from each Fall training session due to class conflicts.
"He's really surprised me and done well at some of our practice meets," Okada said. "He's a pretty thoughtful gymnast. He really thinks about the adjustments he needs to make, and that's good to see from a freshman. But until the winter break, he missed an hour of every practice, but he's been doing really well even with the minimal training."
Saturday's meet will also be different in that it is a virtual meet. ASU will compete at the same time in Tempe, Ariz., there will be no fans in attendance and Cal will be competing in its practice gym. Okada sees some advantages here, though. He's never been one to think about the other teams competing in the gym against the Bears. He always preaches to his squad to just focus on their routines. With such a youthful roster – nine freshmen and no seniors – being able to start the season in the comfort of your practice facility is another advantage.
The 2021 season will be different in many ways, as it will be for all other programs across the country, but Okada and his squad are just happy to be together again.
"We're very grateful to be back in Berkeley, training together and now competing together, even if it's fewer hours, virtual meets and in our training facility," Okada said. "I've also tried to encourage our team to take a step back, look at the big picture and be grateful for what we do have, instead of looking at this as not normal. This team has done really well with that. I want this team to display our gratitude towards everyone who is helping us be able to be together right now."
Cal stays in Berkeley next week, hosting Army on Saturday, Feb. 6, at 2 p.m. from Haas Pavilion. That meet will also be a virtual meet with no fans allowed to attend due to current health protocols.