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Home Away From Home

Jan 29, 2021

This feature originally appeared in the 2020-21 Winter edition of the Cal Sports Quarterly. The Cal Athletics flagship magazine features long-form sports journalism at its finest and provides in-depth coverage of the scholar-athlete experience in Berkeley. Printed copies are mailed four times a year to Bear Backers who give annually at the Bear Club level (currently $600 or more). For more information on how you can receive a printed version of the Cal Sports Quarterly at home, send an email to or call (510) 642-2427.

The conventional wisdom was that Milan Clausi would stay home for her collegiate gymnastics career.
But it turns out that Clausi didn't find home until she got there.
Clausi, whose mother, Missy Marlowe, is a University of Utah legend who competed in the 1988 Summer Olympics, left Salt Lake City to become a California Golden Bear. It's been a perfect match for Clausi, both in and out of the gym.
"It was a little bit weird to leave home and show up to a place that felt more like home than home did, which was really special," said Clausi, the 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. "I'm really grateful to have acclimated the way I did and to feel so comfortable."
Marlowe was a five-time NCAA champion and four-year All-American at Utah, and competed in six events at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea. Clausi grew up regularly attending Utah gymnastics meets.
It seemed only natural that Clausi would continue the family legacy and join the Utes program (Clausi's father, Joe, also played football at Utah).
But the truth is, Clausi never really considered attending Utah despite being a Salt Lake City native with obvious strong ties to the University.
"I think it was almost a given that I was going to go there," Clausi said. "In all honesty, I never really wanted to. I like Utah, but it definitely is not the place I saw myself staying forever. I always kind of felt like the odd man out in Utah, so coming here and feeling like I belonged was something that I was looking for."
Berkeley and Salt Lake City are short on similarities, and that's one of the primary reasons why Clausi chose the Golden Bears. Not only did she feel comfortable with the coaches and student-athletes in the gymnastics program, she relished experiencing the substantially different culture she would encounter at Cal.
"I think the opportunity to come to a place just about as polar opposite as Salt Lake City was something that I really grasped on to," Clausi said. "I was really grateful for the opportunity to literally experience the complete other end of everything I had ever known in Salt Lake. The culture definitely aligns a little more with my lifestyle and the way that I think and go about my life every day."
For her part, Marlowe didn't push Clausi toward the Utes – or gymnastics, for that matter. Clausi entertained a variety of activities when she was younger and excelled at competitive dance, but ultimately made the choice to focus on gymnastics.
"She kind of always wanted to go away to college, and we certainly always encouraged that even though I absolutely love the University of Utah," Marlowe said. "When Cal's offer came in, she really just kind of jumped on it immediately. It was a situation that was way too good to pass up."
There were other reasons Clausi chose the Bears. Cal's program was developing into a national power under coaches Justin Howell and Liz Crandall-Howell, and she wanted to be part of it. The Clausi family also had a long relationship with Crandall-Howell, who once was hosted by Marlowe on a recruiting trip to Utah. The Clausis also have several relatives and family friends that live in the Bay Area. And, of course, there was the appeal of attending the No. 1 public university on the planet.
But for Clausi, it kept coming back to coming home.
"Milan is just very accepting," Marlowe said. "At one point, she wanted to change high schools to one that was more diverse. That's just how she's wired."
Clausi made an immediate impact in the gym with the Bears, earning the nod as the Pac-12's top freshman and garnering All-Pac-12 second-team honors on vault in 2019. She was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick on vault last season as a sophomore.
"I don't think that it was a surprise at all that Milan had that kind of success in her freshman year," Crandall-Howell said. "She is probably one of the most mentally put together competitors that I've ever seen. She has the ability to just lock in under pressure."
Clausi had never missed a routine during her Cal career until finally falling on vault during the Bears' final meet of the year at UCLA before the 2020 season was cut short due to COVID-19. Crandall-Howell thought that was a good thing.
"I had felt she was kind of carrying that with her," Crandall-Howell said. "Sometimes in competition, she was holding back a little bit to make sure she didn't make a mistake. I would like to see her let it all go out there and be a little more free in her performances, because that's what I see in the gym every day. That's when I see her best gymnastics."
Clausi admits that fall has had a freeing effect on her, and she will be more inclined to try new things with her routines moving forward. But she had to go several months before capitalizing on her new-found philosophy since the gymnastics world closed down because of the global pandemic.
"I think having certain expectations of myself made failing something that terrifies me," Clausi said. "It was a bit of a rude awakening in a good way. It was a little weight off my shoulders. I think I got a little out of focus with what I was doing and what it would mean if I fell, and then I did exactly that. It was honestly a good experience. It kind of felt like it opened the door to allow for other improvements where I might have otherwise been too afraid to try."
Clausi said she really wasn't aware of the magnitude of her mom's gymnastics achievements until she got to college and kept hearing about her assorted accolades. Clausi began to research them and determined that her mom was a pretty big deal.
Although Marlowe does have trophies and other memorabilia at the family's home in Salt Lake City, it's not something she flaunted.
"The fact that I was in the Olympics just doesn't register," Marlowe said. "That's kind of a big thing. It's a big deal to other people, but to (her children), I'm just their mom. I'm the one who made them eat right and made them go to bed. In reality, you're just mom. You're the driver. You're the one who nags them about brushing their teeth."