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Arizona GymCats take it to the wire against No. 6 California

The Arizona GymCats on Jan. 14, 2023
Photo by Rebecca Sasnett / Arizona Athletics

When you’re opening up Pac-12 competition against the No. 6 team in the nation, there may not be expectations that you will win. The Arizona GymCats did not earn the upset, but they looked like a team that expected to be in it before falling to California in the final rotation by a final score of 196.400 to 196.100.

It didn’t start out promising on vault. Arizona left its opening rotation with a score of 48.650 while Cal was opening up a huge lead with a 49.250 on bars. Being down by 0.600 is a big deficit in NCAA gymnastics, but there was plenty of time left.

It turned out that the scores on vault were tight for both teams. The Golden Bears went to vault next and put up the same 48.650 that the GymCats had scored on the event. Meanwhile, Arizona was getting back on track with a 48.975 on bars.

It wasn’t quite as good as last week’s turn on the bars when the GymCats scored a 49.075. Elena Deets tied her career high with a 9.900 and was named Arizona’s gymnast of the meet by her coaches. Other gymnasts who usually put up big scores weren’t able to match it, though. Alysen Fears scored just a 9.775 after scoring a 9.900 last week and Malia Hargrove fell.

“I didn’t feel too much pressure today,” Deets said. “I kind of just went in and did what I know how to do.”

As for the drop in Fears’ score from last week, Arizona head coach John Court said that her deductions were for the same thing others had difficulty with this week. In addition to some short handstands, it came down to the dismount.

“If your skill goes backwards, you have to step back and if it goes forward, you should step forwards,” Court said. “So, the judges this year are really hitting steps in the wrong direction. They take the step and then they hit other deductions on form. So, it’s a big no-no.”

Court said that they had several steps in the wrong direction on floor, as well, and that ultimately cost them the win.

The score on bars did right the ship, though. It also led into the balance beam, which has been one of Arizona’s strongest events this season. While Emily Mueller fell, the GymCats were able to drop her score when everyone else scored a 9.800 or better.

Taylor Spears, our coach, she’s such a great coach,” Deets said. “We all feel so confident on the event, and we know how to do our skills.”

The beam score wasn’t quite as high as Court thought it should be, but it put Arizona just 0.050 behind California going into the final rotation after the Golden Bears had some difficulty on floor exercise. Cal was forced to keep a 9.550 from Gabby Perea after Madelyn Williams’ fall dropped her score to 8.950.

“We were almost tied going into the final rotation, and you can’t ask for much more than that,” Court said. “Taylor does a great job with them on beam. We stuck four dismounts, which was great. Aly opened with a 9.85, but we didn’t have a 9.9. I mean, that’s crazy, because there was certainly 9.9 routines going on. But they are capable of more on beam. Taylor, she’ll be satisfied but not happy.”

Court noted that he was especially surprised at the spread between the scores of the two beam judges for Deets. She earned a 9.800 from one judge and a 9.950 from the other, giving her a 9.875. It was a career high for the junior, bettering her previous high of 9.825.

Mueller rebounded from her fall on beam in a big way. She went second for the GymCats and scored 9.900 on floor, tying her career high. Hargrove did not perform beam this week after a fall last week, but she put together a strong routine on floor and matched Mueller’s score. Caroline Herry closed things out with a 9.850.

Although she has proven herself to be Arizona’s best all-around gymnast, Hargrove has had an up and down year in the early going of her senior campaign. She has had a fall on one event in two of the three meets so far. Court isn’t concerned about it, though, especially since as a gymnast who typically performs all-around, she’s doing a lot more gymnastics than everyone else on the team.

“I shouldn’t say, but if you look at her stats, she hits then we usually have a miss,” Court said. “We have some hits and we have another miss, and she figures out her consistency by the end of the year.”

The comeback run on floor wasn’t enough, as Cal had earned a meet-high score of 49.450 on beam in the final rotation. With two events scoring over 49.400, the Golden Bears were able to overcome the sub-49 scores on vault and floor exercise to outpace the GymCats by 0.300.

It was Arizona’s first score over 146 in its three meets this season. That will help its scoring average and could bump it up in the rankings from this week’s No. 33.

Arizona’s record fell to 4-3 on the season and 0-1 in Pac-12 competition. The GymCats travel to Tempe to take on No. 20 Arizona State next week.