No. 5 Cal Wins NCAA Regional Semifinal
MORGANTOWN, West Virginia – The No. 5 California women's gymnastics team tallied the second-best team score in school history and will advance to Saturday's NCAA Regional Final with a dominant performance at the NCAA Regional Semifinal on Friday. The Bears defeated No. 12 BYU, Ohio State and Towson by posting a score of 197.725.
Cal had the individual winners on all four events and the all-around, while defeating the three other teams by a significant margin. Ohio St (196.525) took second place in a surprise as they knocked off No. 12 BYU (196.350) and Towson (195.025). However, Cal had the best team score on all four events and was not challenged as they moved to the next stage of the NCAA competition by hitting all 24 of their routines.
"I thought we did a great job today, our team was super relaxed," co-head coach Justin Howell said. "We recently put out a mic'd up of the team during a meet, and it was a perfect representation of how we want them to be in meets. They're loose and silly when they can be, but locked in when they need to be. They did a good job of that today, they were a little tight in warmups, but they relaxed and got into rhythm. The energy in the corral was great. We had a good number of fans there that brought signs and were cheering. We stayed in our own lane and did not let our focus and energy drift to anything that wasn't part of our Bear bubble."
The Bears will now advance to the regional final, which will take place on Saturday at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET on ESPN+. Cal will go up against Ohio State and the top two teams from the other semifinal, which features No. 4 Michigan, No. 13 UCLA, Kent State and West Virginia later on Friday. The top two teams from tomorrow's Regional final advance to the NCAA Championship. Cal is looking to qualify for the NCAA Championship for the fifth time in program history as a team. The Bears have qualified as a team in three of the past four years, not including 2020 when the NCAA Championship wasn't held.
Cal opened the regional by posting a 49.400 on the beam, tying for the fifth-best beam score in program history. All six Bears posted a 9.800 or higher, led by Maya Bordas' 9.950 mark which tied her career high and was a season-best mark by the junior. Bordas won the event, her first victory on the balance beam this year. Kyana George posted a 9.90, that's the sixth time in the past seven meets that the senior has posted a 9.90+ this year as she took third place.
"We started on beam, and we're a confident beam team," Howell said. "Then to start strong on beam gives everyone a nice little confidence boost heading into the next three rotations. Maya's beam routine was beautiful. Each beam routine got better and better throughout the lineup. Milan led us off with a solid beam routine and each person grew from there. To start a pressure-filled meet like that put us in a good place confidence-wise."
George followed that with an even better performance on floor as the senior won the event with a 9.95 mark. Freshman Andi Li took second place with a 9.90, the third time she has been able to cross the 9.90 threshold. Nevaeh DeSouza, Milan Clausi and Bordas all tied for sixth as they collected 9.85 scores. The combined excellence of the Cal lineup helped the Bears to the seventh-best floor score in school history.
The theme of the first two rotations was how Cal was able to build on each subsequent routine. The scores were equal or better as the Bears progressed through their rotation. On beam, Clausi started with a 9.80 and the team progressed to Bordas' anchor of 9.95. The same was true on floor as Grace Quinn led off with a 9.825 and George anchored with a 9.95 as Cal carried the momentum throughout the rotations and into the second half of the meet.
"It showed in the team's energy, one person went out, competed and got energy and we celebrated," Howell said. "Then the next person went out and built on it, and one-upped each other. That was a lot of fun to see as a coach."
Cal moved to vault on the third rotation as the Bears recorded the sixth-best team score in school history on the event. Five Cal student-athletes finish with top-three marks, including senior Nina Schank who won her first vault competition of the year with a career-high tying 9.90. Schank was joined on the podium by George, DeSouza, Andi Li and Natalie Sadighi. George took second place with a 9.875 score while DeSouza, Li and Sadighi all scored 9.85 marks. Sadighi tied her career high with that 9.85 mark as she led off for the Bears after being subbed in for Bordas after warmups.
"We subbed in Natalie for Maya and that was a call we made because Natalie was nailing vaults in warmups," Howell said. "Maya was a little fatigued coming off floor, and sometimes you can get a little bit nervous because you don't have the depth. That hasn't been a problem for us this year. We were able to rest Maya, let her get her energy back for bars and tomorrow's meet. Then Natalie came in and delivered a big, aggressive high-scoring vault to start the rotation. Everyone on the team feels so confident with each other because we have so many options that rise to the occasion."
Cal closed Friday's competition by moving to the team's best event, the uneven bars, and they did not disappoint. Cal tallied a 49.600 mark, the second-best score in program history and tied for the third-best in the NCAA this year. Cal also scored an NCAA record-tying 49.825 earlier this year vs. UCLA, which ranks first on both of those lists. Just like vs. UCLA, it was Emi Watterson's fantastic anchor routine, which topped the scoring. The senior won the event with a 9.975, the sixth time a Bear has reached that threshold in school history and Watterson has done it three of those six times.
"I think that the routine that Emi did tonight was potentially even better than her 10.0 routine," Howell said. "She held her handstands beautifully, and stuck the landing. I think our bar team throughout the season has gained so much confidence. They believe in themselves as great bar workers and they relax and just do their thing."
DeSouza led off the Cal rotation on bars with a 9.925 and Alma Kuc matched her in the fifth spot as those two tied for third place. Schank posted a 9.90 and Li tallied a 9.875 to round out the Cal lineup, which ranks first in the nation on the uneven bars.
Li finished in the top spot on the all-around as the freshman tallied a 39.475. She posted at least a 9.85 on all four events to narrowly edge out DeSouza who finished at 39.450 and took second in the all-around. This was Li's second career All-Around win as she also won Cal's regular season finale vs. Washington with a 39.575 mark.
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