Bears Battle Adversity To Prep For First Meet
BERKELEY – After a long and uncertainty-riddled offseason, reaching the first meet of the 2022 campaign is somewhat of a relief to Cal men's gymnastics. This weekend, the Bears will test their progress against SoCal United, a team of collegiate gymnasts from Southern California whose universities do not field their own programs. The matchup, which is set for 7:00 p.m. PT at Haas Pavilion, will conclude the two-day Cal Benefit Cup, which is hosted every year by UC Berkeley to fundraise for the men's gymnastics program and allow youth gymnasts to compete in a collegiate facility.
Fifth-year head coach J.T. Okada is not one to mince words when describing the challenges that his team has faced since last season.
"It's tough," he said earlier this week. "We've had a few guys get injured over the offseason, and the necessary COVID protocols have had an effect on our ability to train the way that we'd like to be able to. It's been a challenging time for everyone."
Still, there is plenty about the 2022 squad for fans to be excited about. "Some of the top programs in the country field larger facilities and coaching staffs than we do," said Okada, "so it's something to be celebrated that we're still competing with them at a national level."
Cal ended the 2021 season as the No. 10-ranked team in the country, sending three of their best – Caleb Rickard, Yu-Chen Lee and Noah Newfeld, to the finals at the NCAA Championships after hitting their best team score of the season (392.055) in the qualifier round.
Rickard, then ranked seventh in the nation on vault by the College Gymnastics Association (CGA), reached All-American status after a fifth-place tie on vault at the finals and posted a program-record score of 14.666. Lee boasted a national ranking of 14th on parallel bars at season's end after previously earning two MPSF Gymnast of the Week awards, while Newfeld won the CGA Rookie of the Year award and finished the year at No. 12 in the country in the all-around. Teammate Will Lavanakul, although he missed the NCAA finals, notched a CGA Specialist of the Week award during the season and ended at 19th overall on the CGA's pommel horse rankings.
As a whole, the 2022 iteration of Cal men's gymnastics is incredibly young, with over half of the squad being underclassmen – however, that is not necessarily a negative. This year's current sophomores led the team in their respective events 18 times in 2021, and Okada believes that the best is yet to come.
"I'm excited to see what they'll do this year," he said. "Everyone is working hard to improve and reach the goals that we've set. We're definitely on an upward trajectory."
WATCH THE MEET
Fans can watch the Bears compete even if they cannot attend in person - click here to follow the live stream on Pac12.com.