Bears Back on Horse at NCAA Championships

After Faltering at the MPSFs, Cal Looks for Redemption Against the Nation's Best

Photo: <b>Kyle Bunthuwong</b> was the only Cal gymnast to record a 14.000 or better on the pommel horse at the MPSF championships, an area the Bears will need to improve on during the NCAA qualifiers.
Victoria Chow/File
Kyle Bunthuwong was the only Cal gymnast to record a 14.000 or better on the pommel horse at the MPSF championships, an area the Bears will need to improve on during the NCAA qualifiers.

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"Why do we fall, Mr. Wayne? So we learn to pick ourselves up."

That line, said to Bruce Wayne by his butler Alfred in "Batman Begins," seems to apply to the No. 5 Cal men's gymnastics team of late.

After a disappointing showing at the MPSF championships on April 4, when the Bears finished a distant third behind top-ranked Stanford and No. 2 Oklahoma, they slipped two spots in the overall standings.

Two weeks later, at the NCAA qualifiers in Minnesota, they face the challenge of getting back on the horse-literally.

Cal had a solid performance at the league championships until the team faltered on the pommel horse, finishing in last place on the event. That rotation put the title out of reach, and was a big emotional blow to the team.

"Right after the competition, we gathered together as a team and talked about what we're going to do during practice this week," sophomore Kyle Bunthuwong said. "You cannot allow yourself to get nervous, especially on an event we practice every week."

Every competitor except Bunthuwong fell off the pommel horse, and the team's momentum dropped off steeply at the end of the meet.

But the Bears are looking past that, getting back in the gym and picking up where they left off before the pommel rotation.

"We decided it would be better to just move on," freshman Daniel Culpepper said. "What really matters is for us to be sure of our abilities and to ignore anything that might distract us as a team."

Looking to get back on track, the Bears flew out early this week to the Minnesota Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis. Today's qualifiers will determine which squads head to the team championships on Saturday.

If Cal places in the top three in the qualifier, the whole team would advance to the championships on Saturday. If the Bears fail to make the cut, the top three individuals in each event on non-qualifying teams will advance to the individual championships, also on Saturday.

Cal will be competing in the first session, along with conference rivals Stanford and No. 9 Nebraska, as well as national powers Michigan, Penn State and Navy.

The Bears defeated the Cornhuskers at the conference championships and also put down the No. 8 Nittany Lions back in March.

The No. 4 Wolverines took advantage of the MPSF competition and jumped ahead of Cal in the standings.

This also marks the sixth time this season that the Bears will be competing in the same field as the Cardinal.

But Cal still relishes the opportunity to face its top-ranked crossbay rival.

"We already know what Stanford can do," Bunthuwong said. "We expected Stanford and Oklahoma to come out strong, and we know what we have to do to be ready for this week. It allows us to stay focused on ourselves rather than the rest of the competition."


Contact Evan Aczon at [email protected]

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