No. 11 Cal Tops Arizona State In Season Opener
BERKELEY - After nearly a year since its last competition, the No. 11 California men's gymnastics team started the 2021 campaign on the right foot, defeating Arizona State, 384.800-380.900, Saturday from Golden Bear Rec on the Cal campus.
"As I've been expressing from the beginning, we're so grateful to get to this point," head coach JT Okada said. "We got our first meet under belts, and we didn't even know if that was going to be a possibility during the summer. We're grateful to be on the floor and have this platform. I'm really proud of our team for putting themselves in a position to build off of. It wasn't a perfect meet, but it was a good start."
Kyle Abe secured three personal bests and an all-around score of 75.250 to lead the way for the Bears. His three personal bests came on parallel bars (13.150), floor (12.950) and pommel horse (12.300). His best mark of the night, though, came on vault (13.250).
"He did well," Okada said about Abe's performance. "It's never easy to do all six events, especially when nobody else is doing them with you. He handled it well. I look forward to him making certain corrections that he can easily do to bolster that all-around score."
Team captain Caleb Rickard notched Cal's top score of the night, posting a career-high 14.350 on vault, surpassing his previous personal best of 14.250 from last season. Yu-Chen Lee and Aidan Giusti followed with the Bears' second and third best scores of the night on vault, 13.950 and 13.750, respectively. Giusti's mark was also a career high. As a team, the Bears posted a score of 68.350 in the rotation, their best of the meet.
"I'm happy with vault," Okada said. "We gave a few freshmen the opportunity to compete on vault. Aidan Giusti, who was only doing one event last year and is now doing four events, he's had a lot of growth. I was happy with him putting up a really good vault. Caleb, he found his vault today. He did an upgraded 15.2 start value, compared to the 14.8 start value that most of the other guys did."
Pommel horse was a focus for Okada during the offseason, recruiting numerous specialists for that event, and it showed today. The Bears notched a team score of 63.350, with the top marks coming from two true freshmen – Aidan Li (13.500) and Noah Newfeld (13.050).
Okada named Newfeld his star of the meet for all of his performances in his collegiate debut. His top mark of the night was his pommel score, but he also garnered a 12.950 on parallel bars and a 12.800 on rings.
"I was happy with the start of pommel," Okada said. "It was still shaky, some mistakes, but that's also where you can see our strong freshmen coming in here. Aidan Li, can't say enough about how he handled his first routine. I look for him to build and do even more difficult things on top of that. Noah Newfeld is the star of the day for me. Five events, and they all counted for us. Competing in five events in your first meet, and for him to do as well as he did for us is absolutely incredible."
Li and Newfeld were two of eight true freshmen who competed for the Bears tonight. The rookies making an immediate impact was partly due to some injuries, but Okada also wanted the class to get valuable experience right from the start.
Other notable freshmen performances included Jelani Sweet (12.950 on vault), Collin Cunane (12.950 on horizontal bar), Savion Perea (13.150 on vault) and Seth Ornelas (13.050 on vault).
"We need our freshmen to use this year to learn," Okada said. "If we expect to have a really great run next year with a full team of seniors all the way down, then we're going to need that experience gained during this unusual year."
The Bears return to action Saturday, Feb. 6, squaring off against Army at 2 p.m. PT from Haas Pavilion. Due to currently local health guidelines, fans will not be allowed to attend the meet in person. The virtual meet will be live streamed here.