MPSF Supremacy Hanging in the Balance

Photo: Senior Kyson Bunthuwong leads Cal into the MPSF tournament as the third-ranked individual in the nation on the parallel bars.
Lara Brucker/File
Senior Kyson Bunthuwong leads Cal into the MPSF tournament as the third-ranked individual in the nation on the parallel bars.

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Well-rested and well-prepared, the Cal men's gymnastics team will take a familiar trip Saturday to Palo Alto. It's a trip that the Bears have already made once this year, and they'll be facing No. 1 Stanford for the fifth time this season.

But this time, more than just bragging rights are on the line.

The No. 3 Bears are headed out to the Farm to compete in the MPSF championships, which will include the top three programs in the nation. Stanford, No. 2 Oklahoma and Cal will square off for conference supremacy. Also participating will be No. 9 Nebraska and No. 15 Air Force.

It has been more than three weeks since the Bears (9-1) last competed, defeating Penn State on March 14, but their spring break was anything but relaxing. Coach Barry Weiner held double practices during the week, and the team has been working hard to prepare for Saturday.

"Last week was definitely the most intense practice week of the year," first-year law student Kyle Brady said. "We didn't get much time off, but it definitely prepared us for Saturday."

The conference championship looks to be a very good preview of the NCAA championships, which are held in Minnesota later this month. With the top three teams competing this weekend, Cal is striving to make its case for the top ranking going on to the national stage.

"This week and NCAA are both up for grabs," Brady said. "We're all pretty much on equal footing, so whoever wins this week will have to turn it around and do it again."

Oklahoma has had a stranglehold on the gymnastics scene for the past decade, winning nine of the last 10 MPSF titles, including the last four, and five of the last 10 NCAA titles. Undefeated this year at a perfect 12-0, the Sooners are looking to recapture the top ranking behind captains Steven Legendre and Chris Brooks.

Yet the Bears maintain their own dominant position, pointing to their upperclassmen as the emotional motivators for the team. Senior Kyson Bunthuwong is third in the nation on the parallel bars, and redshirt junior Evan Roth is ninth in the still rings.

Cal rolled through most of the regular season, due in part to strong performances in the all-around from freshman Glen Ishino and a steady season from sophomore Kyle Bunthuwong. Against the Cardinal (7-4), the Bears swept two dual meets in January and defeated them again at the Gold Country Classic before barely losing the Pacific Coast Classic.

Nebraska and Air Force have both struggled this year, with the two teams combining for a record of 7-23. The Cornhuskers (4-7) are led by senior T.J. Schmidt, who ranks seventh in the nation on the parallel bars. The Falcons (3-16) have had a disappointing year as a team, but senior Jake Schonig is leading the nation on still rings.

The Bears were the last team from outside Norman, Okla., to win the MPSF championship, back in 2004. They came up short last year, leading going into the final rotation before finishing behind Oklahoma and Stanford. Current graduate assistant Tim McNeill, who won the pommel horse and the parallel bars, led Cal to third place.


Contact Evan Aczon at [email protected]

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