Bears Falter at Nationals

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All season long, Cal gymnasts waxed eloquent on their teams - the tight-knit groups were there for support and celebration through a long and, at times, trying season.

But this weekend, the race to qualify for the women's NCAA Championships wasn't about the Cal team anymore. And for the men, individual triumph overshadowed a disappointing team finish.

The women's squad sent three gymnasts to NCAA regionals in Corvallis, Ore. where Leila Khoury finished ninth in the all around.

"She tied her highest floor score and did real well on beam," Cal coach Trini Tinti said. "A little bit of a mistake on bars probably cost her (a spot at the nationals)."

Meanwhile, the Bears men's squad traveled to Iowa City, Iowa for the NCAA Championships this past weekend. Cal won back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998, but failed to qualify for the national finals last year. After a second-place finish in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federations championships last month, the Bears were seeded second for NCAA's and expected to challenge defending champion Michigan.

But despite strong team performances on the horizontal bar and pommel horse, the Bears' mistakes on the vault and still rings held Cal to a fifth-place team finish. Penn State came from behind to upset the Wolverines and Iowa and take home the title.

Cal freshman Michael Ashe got vindication, though, winning an individual title on the horizontal bar. Ashe, who also finished third on the pommel horse and 11th in the all-around, scored a 9.9 to win the competition's final event.

The Bears' Cody Moore took eighth in the all-around with a 57.650 and fourth on the pommel horse with a 9.825. Andrew Hampy finished second on the vault with a 9.787, and junior Tal Moskovitz scored a 57.45 to finish 11th in the all-around.

Just as the men returned from Iowa, Cal's women's team journied to Corvallis for the Region 1 championships Saturday. Gymnasts whose teams did not qualify could advance to the NCAA Championships could advance to the national finals by placing among the top 12 individual finishers nationwide.

Cal senior Leila Khoury was oh-so-close to qualifying for the NCAA Championships. Khoury, who qualified as an alternate her sophomore year, unofficially wound up 14th on the national individual rankings, just two slots away from her first trip to the finals. Despite a regional fourth-place finish on the floor exercise - where her 9.9 score tied her record for that event - and a ninth-place all-around finish, a shaky uneven bars set left Khoury on the bubble.

"I had two minor breaks that probably cost me a qualification," she said. "It's kind of a disappointing way to end."

The fact that only three Cal gymnasts, rather than the whole team made the trip to Corvallis may have been a factor in performance levels.

"It's hard to compete without your team," she said. "You don't have a team to pick up your slack - it's hard to do individual."

But Khoury said she wasn't dwelling on the disappointment in the last meet of her Cal career.

"Right now, I'm not really thinking about that," she said.

Along with Khoury, Cal gymnasts Pari Oliver and Carrie Kreifels made the trip to Corvallis. Both did well on the uneven bars and the floor exercise, where Oliver scored a 9.825 and Kreifels a 9.750.

"Pari Oliver did great," said Cal coach Trina Tinti. "She hit all four of her events and had a great meet - she was only one-tenth behind Leila in the all-around."

Both Oliver and Kriefels, a freshman, were competing in their first regionals. Tinti said the experience could be the key to the future success of both gymnasts.

"For Carrie to get that experience under her belt and have three more years knowing the competitive field out there, it's great," Tinti said. "It gives both of them a little more education in terms of what we will be competing against."

UCLA's powerhouse squad dominated the regionals, finishing nearly a point ahead of Oregon State. Bruins gymnasts Monhini Bhardwaj and Heidi Moneymaker packed a one-two punch in the all-around.

"UCLA is outstanding," Tinti said. "I think they're the best team in the country, whether or not it actually ends up that way. It's good for Cal athletes to see. It makes our region extremely competitive and makes us more aware of what's out there."


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