Freshmen Vaulted Cal Into Title Contention

Photo: Kyson Bunthuwong provided veteran leadership for the Bears, claiming the all-around title on Senior Day. He was complemented by a strong group of underclassmen this year.
Lara Brucker/File
Kyson Bunthuwong provided veteran leadership for the Bears, claiming the all-around title on Senior Day. He was complemented by a strong group of underclassmen this year.

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With the sun having set on this year's campaign, the Cal men's gymnastics team can look back on its season and be proud of its achievements, as a unit and as individuals.

The Bears were expected to contend, but few people likely imagined them competing for an NCAA championship.

While powerhouses Stanford and Oklahoma returned with a majority of their gymnasts, Cal fielded a team that included nine freshman and only four seniors.

But a combination of the experience of the veterans and the energy of the rookies only made the team better.

"I didn't exactly know what to expect. I thought the seniors would have to take the reins with the team," senior Kyson Bunthuwong said. "But by the end it seemed that everyone was a leader in their own way. The team dynamic definitely evolved."

The Bears defeated the top-ranked Cardinal three times in the early stages of the season, and each time there was a rookie that played the role of hero.

Top recruit Glen Ishino played that part the best, winning the all-around in his first collegiate appearance against Stanford and taking second at the Stanford Open and the Pacific Coast Classic.

Ishino also picked up first place honors in the pommel horse twice and the parallel bars once in the first three meets.

But on the days that Ishino wasn't on top of his game, there were other freshmen who were more than ready to step up.

Nic Blair led the comeback charge on Feb. 14 at the Gold Country Classic, leading off a strong pommel set by the Bears that helped edge the Cardinal by 0.250 points.

Jimmy Kerry notched his first collegiate win on parallel bars at Penn State, and followed that up with an All-American performance on the bars at the NCAA individual championships.

"A lot of the younger guys started showing up with signs of leadership," senior Evan Roth said. "Glen was a great leader by example, and Jimmy and Nic were very vocal, which is nice to have from freshmen."

Cal still had plenty of veteran leadership, and on Senior Day against Ohio State, Kyson Bunthuwong won the all-around, taking first place in three events.

In the same meet, first-year law student Kyle Brady took first place on the rings and sophomore Kyle Bunthuwong finished first on the floor exercise.

Bears coach Barry Weiner had a lot to do with the success of this year, and improved to 238-89-1 in almost 20 years as the head coach for Cal.

This year's returners had fond words for their coach, saying that this year just felt different.

"He deserves a lot of credit for this year," Roth said. "He really put effort into us having fun, which hasn't been the case in the past.

"He's known for his technical prowess. He's a perfectionist. But this year he allowed us to have a lot more fun, and let us learn from the struggle instead of worrying about doing it right."

The Bears head into next year riding on a wave of momentum that includes nine All-America honors, an individual title on rings for Roth and a fourth-place finish at the NCAA team championships, as well as plenty of returning players looking to replicate this year's success.


Contact Evan Aczon at [email protected]

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