Battered Bears Head Into Conference Championship

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It's not in every sport that the smallest thing makes the largest difference. In gymnastics, every tenth of a point counts. One toe outside of the lines on a floor event or even the slightest wobble after a landing from the high bars and it can cost you the victory.

When the No. 3 Cal men's gymnastics travels to Colorado Springs, Colo., this Saturday for the MPSF championships, it will be as much about the meticulous performances of the gymnasts as it is about the judges' evaluations in determining the results.

"The sport can be extremely biased, the judges are basically in control," sophomore Donothan Bailey said. "It's not like a sport like swimming where it's just a timer."

At last year's conference championships, Cal finished second, one tenth of a point behind Oklahoma, currently No. 1 in the nation. It was the best meet of the Bears' season.

"It was a true underdog story," junior Nic Blair said. "I remember specifically one of the coaches from Oklahoma saying, 'Where did that come from?' because we had a really rough season before that."

That rough season was due in large part to the number of injuries the squad had in 2010. A year later and unfortunately for the Bears, Cal is still plagued with similar setbacks.

"A lot of our top guys are out on various events so this time our team has really been stretched to its limit," Blair said.

Junior Glen Ishino, currently a member of the U.S. Senior National Team, is unable to compete in the all-around after struggling to shrug off an ongoing injury. Likewise, senior Bryan del Castillo, who is fresh off his event win in pommel horse against Stanford last weekend, will only perform some of the events.

Piling on the bad news for Cal is Dennis Mannhart's ankle injury. After tearing seven ligaments at last weekend's home meet against Stanford, the sophomore is most likely done for the remainder of the season.

"I won't be traveling for this meet but if I'm lucky then I can compete pommel horse at NCAA's since there is no hard landing, but I don't know yet," Mannhart said. "Hope dies last."

Cal has had its fair share of experience dealing with adversity this season. However, the squad has remained resilient and steadfast, which has helped shape Mannhart's mentality.

In their final season of program history, the Bears have no other choice.

"We want to prove to our conference, the nation, and especially the University, that we are still one of the top teams out there," Mannhart said.

The Bears have faced off against Oklahoma and Stanford this past month, and on paper, it looks like it'll be those three teams vying for the title of the conference's best.

With NCAA Championships coming up two weeks after this competition, the bigger picture is keeping the Bears as healthy as possible.

"We can't afford another injury," Blair said.

Nevertheless, Cal won't want a repeat of last year's painfully close outcome at MPSF Championships and are training accordingly.

"We have really been working on refinement, presentation and form the last couple weeks," Langenstein said.

Their second to last meet will be the test for Cal. Not even an altitude adjustment accompanied with a 4 a.m. flight and jet lag will stop them from rising to the challenge.

"We are going to be hitting 36 routines and coming out on top," Langenstein said.

Tags: TIM MCNEILL, CAL MEN'S GYMNASTICS, GLEN ISHINO, DENNIS MANNHART


Camellia Senemar covers men's gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected]



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