Cal Overcame Injury, Youth to Show Late Promise

Photo: <b>Senior Bridgette Glass</b> was unable to compete until Feb. 1 due to injury, but made a big impact upon her return. Glass set team-high marks on the bars, beam and vault in 2009.
Nick Fradkin/File
Senior Bridgette Glass was unable to compete until Feb. 1 due to injury, but made a big impact upon her return. Glass set team-high marks on the bars, beam and vault in 2009.

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Before a single rotation was completed in 2008-09, it was already apparent that the campaign would be a tough one for a young and shorthanded Cal women's gymnastics team.

The Bears came into the season with an 11-member roster that featured just four upperclassmen. Only six Cal gymnasts competed in the opening tri-meet against UC Davis and Sacramento State.

And according to coach Cari DuBois, not all of the performers on Jan. 10 were in top shape. While the team typically starts full-event training in September, sophomore Stefanie Cheng and seniors Jessica Kelley and Joanna Bennett weren't cleared to train until December.

"For them to be ready by mid-January and be at the top of their game ... that's just unrealistic," DuBois said.

The team struggled early on, with their two lowest overall scores coming in the first two meets: 186.650 in the opener and 185.250 against No. 13 Oregon State and fifth-ranked Arkansas.

In between those two competitions, the Bears lost Kelley-a regionals representative from a year before-to a season-ending injury.

But despite the challenges, Cal raised its team score in each of the next three meets, thanks in large part to its newcomers.

"We had new freshmen step in and help us where they could," DuBois said.

Replacing the injured Kelley, Erica Varon stepped in as a consistent all-around competitor, ultimately scoring a career-high 38.125 during a Michigan road trip later in the year. Alex Leggitt scored an impressive 9.775 on her first floor routine of the season against Arizona, and also competed on the vault in every meet this year.

While newcomers gained experience, the Bears' top upperclassmen led the way. Senior Bridgette Glass, who did not compete until Feb. 1, made an impact the moment she stepped on the floor.

Her 9.825 on the bars and 9.850 on the beam-solid enough for a season debut after an injury-were not even her best scores of 2008-09, as she would go on to set team highs in both of those events, as well as on the vault.

Sophia Hocini -the only Cal gymnast to compete in every single event this year-was also remarkable, but it was the junior's consistency that most impressed her coach.

"Sophia had only two (falls) all year long," DuBois said of Hocini, the Bears' all-around leader in all but one meet. "That's incredible."

Despite the individual achievements-Hocini and Glass, along with sophomore Avery Gee, earned berths to regionals-overall team consistency still eluded Cal until arguably the Pac-10 championships, during which the Bears did not record a single fall.

"We peaked when we needed to ... they looked stronger and more confident," said DuBois, who felt the Pac-10 championships may have been a turning point.

But Cal's last meet may not be a culmination, but rather a sign of things to come. By signing six new recruits from some of the top club programs in the country, while retaining most of this year's proven and motivated core, the Bears should avoid the problems of depth and inexperience that hampered them this year.

Indeed, DuBois was eager in assessing the possibilities for Cal in 2009-10.

"We've got so much talent coming in next year ... and with the talent that we have returning, if everybody stays in shape and does what they're supposed to do ... I'm so excited for next year."


Contact Ed Yevelev at [email protected]

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