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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Contained in the rise of California girls’s gymnastics


When Justin Howell took over as head coach for the California girls’s gymnastics program in 2013, he took over a program that ranked forty ninth the season earlier than and hadn’t had a successful season since 1996. Eleven years later, Cal is a formidable nationwide title contender and completed the common season ranked No. 3 within the nation.

Justin has had loads of assist via the years to get this system to the place it’s now, particularly from his co-head coach and spouse Elisabeth Crandall-Howell, who grew to become the co-lead over this system in 2018.

So how did Cal go from a low-to-mid-tier program to undeniably among the finest within the nation?

For the reason that Howell takeover, the Bears have made regionals each season and have put up 10 straight successful seasons, highlighted by ending seventh within the nation in 2023, ’21, and ’16. It’s no coincidence that eight out of Cal’s 11 NCAA All-People have come throughout this tenure.

For one, it’s taken plenty of endurance. When Justin took over the teaching place, he knew he was in it for the lengthy haul. Nonetheless, he noticed no cause that the California girls’s gymnastics program couldn’t match the fame of the varsity’s tutorial excellence.

“I all the time felt like there’s no cause why we’re on the primary public college on the planet in California. There is no such thing as a cause why this gymnastic program shouldn’t match the extent of teachers that’s Cal,” Justin instructed Gymnastics Now. “We could be a incredible gymnastics program. And so once I bought the decision to educate, it was form of a no brainer. … That’s when the imaginative and prescient actually began – the place we thought this program to go. We knew it was gonna take a very long time. I feel at first, we didn’t assume it might take that lengthy to make a fairly vital leap from the individuals as a result of we had a plan and a imaginative and prescient that outline gymnastics that we needed.”

Again to the fundamentals

Their expertise as membership gymnastics coaches got here in helpful in taking time to develop their program. Justin spent 15 years as a membership coach at Airborne Gymnastics earlier than turning into an assistant coach at Cal in 2012.

“The membership gymnastics expertise actually performs in right here as a result of we all know how lengthy it takes to develop as a younger gymnast and eventually get to degree 10 or elite,” Justin mentioned. “We’ve coached from grassroots all the way in which up. It’s important to be actually, actually affected person as a coach, and you bought to do issues the correct method to get to that place. It’s not totally different in faculty gymnastics; you simply occur to have plenty of actually, actually gifted athletes … however reshaping the tradition, engaged on the muse of gymnastics, setting the expectation, these are all issues that we’ve got a plan for, however can take a very long time to slowly implement, after which, lastly, advantageous tune it to what you need it to be.”

Regardless that the rise to being a prime three staff within the nation has taken over a decade, Cal did see some fairly quick outcomes beneath the tutelage of Justin. They vaulted from forty ninth to twenty eighth in his first season and sixteenth in his second. Since his second season at Cal, all of Howell’s groups have ranked within the prime 20 yearly.

An enormous a part of Cal’s rise and this imaginative and prescient coming to life is the robust type and fundamentals the staff nearly all the time appears to carry out with. The Bears discipline a few of the most constantly clear routines, and their type has change into synonymous with their program. It’s additionally key to their constant success. It’s quite a bit simpler for Cal to repeatedly put up excessive scores after they have few type errors or built-in deductions.

Coach Liz additionally credit their membership teaching expertise to this success in capturing pristine type, which she considers simply as essential as instructing the “huge” expertise.

“Our roots come from instructing the very beginnings and fundamentals of gymnastics, and I’ve simply as a lot ardour … for seeing somebody degree up in the way in which that they carry out a ability to the best virtuosity, size, line, stunning type, and creating simply the attractive artwork which you can seize in nonetheless moments in gymnastics, as we do when anyone’s doing a double-double one flooring,” Liz mentioned. “As a result of these are all big accomplishments, and I feel that there’s an excessive amount of pleasure that comes from the self-discipline – the day by day self-discipline and dedication that it takes to create these footage.”

This self-discipline doesn’t simply happen when training expertise and acting at meets, however by bringing that type and execution to even one thing so simple as kicks throughout warmups, based on Liz.

“We search for athletes in recruiting who actually are captivated with that as nicely,” Liz mentioned. “That they assume ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so stunning when so and so does a hoop leap and their foot is on their brow.’ … That they will admire not simply doing one thing to do it, however doing it to its absolute max.”

Underdogs no extra

Regardless that the Howells have now been efficiently implementing their imaginative and prescient for years, this 2024 Bears squad is shining like no different. This staff is on tempo to realize greater than these three squads which have peaked at No. 7 via the years.

The Bears have been ranked both No. 2 or No. 3 all season apart from the primary week, and so they have the No. 3 ranked all-arounder within the nation in eMjae Frazier, in addition to quite a few athletes ranked within the prime 10 throughout occasions throughout the common season.

Over the previous couple seasons, Cal has nearly been thought of a “darling” staff within the NCAA. They reached seventh place general in 2023 and fell wanting making it to the 4 on the Flooring after two surprising falls on bars throughout the nationwide semifinals. Although the falls price them a shot on the closing, there was an normal sentiment that making it that far was nice progress for the Bears.

Whereas that’s true – particularly contemplating the progress this system has made beneath Justin and Liz – 2023 was removed from a fluke for the Bears; Cal is right here to remain. They’re not on the sting of creating a prime eight or sneaking into the 4 on the Flooring – they’re bona fide contenders.

“Our staff has come thus far, and we’re doing so superior,” eMjae Frazier mentioned. “Everybody would say Cal is the underdogs, however in actuality, we’re a very good staff, and we belong on the prime with everybody else. We’ve put within the onerous work and the dedication and it simply reveals in competitors we’re very able to being on the prime, and it shouldn’t actually be a shock if we’re.”

Statistically, Cal is way from the underdog of this season. Cal has averaged a 197.833 thus far this season and peaked with a program document 198.550. They rank solely behind Oklahoma, the back-to-back reigning NCAA champions, and LSU, who they swapped locations with for the No. 2 spot a lot of the season. The Bears completed the common season ranked No. 6 on vault, No. 2 on bars and beam, and No. 3 on flooring.

So what’s particularly driving this yr’s staff? In spite of everything, the first core of this staff is similar from final yr other than the lack of Nevaeh DeSouza and the addition of freshman Kyen Mayhew.

In line with Coach Liz, mindfulness has performed a key position in Cal’s success this season, significantly in competing at greater meets early within the season, just like the Imply Ladies Tremendous 16 in Week 1 and the Sprouts Farmers Market Collegiate Quad in Week 2.

“They undoubtedly managed each scenario very well,” Liz mentioned. “One of many issues that has stood out probably the most is the extent of mindfulness and consciousness that they’ve had in each single scenario. These are form of the issues that which you can’t put together for within the fitness center.”

“For a contest, you are able to do all of the repetitions, however when you get into a contest scenario, that’s actually the apply of ‘How am I going to handle the noise? How am I going to handle 4 groups on the ground on the identical time? How am I going to handle being on the highway three weekends in a row?’ So it takes plenty of psychological focus, and the flexibility to form of take within the data and keep calm,” Liz added. “I feel that has been probably the most spectacular factor thus far.”

Sophomore eMjae Frazier has epitomized that mindfulness and brought management forward of her competitions along with her pre-meet routine. On the competitors area, Frazier eases herself with a name to her household or speaks to them in the event that they’re attending in particular person so as to add to her consolation. Frazier additionally follows a household custom began by older sister and UCLA gymnast Margzetta Frazier, the place they ship a pre-meet image to the household and get ‘good luck’ messages. Margzetta additionally began a pre-meet custom of listening to the tune “Final Breath” by Future, which she first despatched to eMjae earlier than one among her personal UCLA competitions in 2021.

On prime of this, Frazier visualizes of her routines earlier than meets to assist her put together to execute.

“I’ll placed on my headphones and visualize my routines on every occasion,” Frazier mentioned. “Not simply visualize, however transfer my arms and my physique in the way in which I need to compete it, after which I’ll lay on the ground, do some respiration, visualization, shut my eyes, relax, and really feel what I need to really feel all through the entire day.”

After all, their improved meet-day performances have additionally come because of how they’ve adjusted to the brand new faculty stick rule, which stipulates you have to maintain your ending place on vault, bars, and beam for not less than one second or incur a half-tenth deduction. Cal has achieved a great job at dialing in landings, which was a part of their emphasis throughout the preseason.

“We’ve been tremendous constant… however particularly with the brand new stick rule that has been carried out into the NCAA program; Liz and Justin undoubtedly exaggerated that,” mentioned standout Mya Lauzon. “We practiced {that a} heavy quantity throughout apply all through preseason.”

Not all of Cal’s progress has taken place contained in the fitness center. Coach Justin credited the success of Lauzon and Frazier this season particularly to the 2 searching for management alternatives – each inside and out of doors of the gymnastics staff.

Lauzon and Frazier have each excelled within the all-around and each have earned 10s on a number of occasions. They’re additionally on Cal’s Coach’s Council, which the Bears use over captains. The Coach’s Council is a task that gymnasts have the chance to use to at Cal and work as leaders for the staff.

Frazier calls the council “the voice of the staff” and describes them as “the liasons between the coaches and the women.” Even when it’s one thing so simple as selecting out the leotards the staff will put on throughout the week, Frazier enjoys taking up the mindset of “how can I assist my staff?”

For his or her coaches, this has solely added to who Frazier and Lauzon are as gymnasts and folks, basically.

“They’re phenomenal athletes, they all the time have been,” Justin mentioned. “However to have the ability to carry out, week in and week out, at a very excessive degree takes plenty of self-discipline, plenty of motivation, and plenty of management to have the ability to try this. All of the alternatives that they’ve wanted and embraced for themselves have led them to be extremely assured individuals. And also you’re beginning to see that in competitors.”

In the future higher

All of this elements into the Bears’ mission to get “someday higher” – a mantra that has fueled Justin and Liz’s imaginative and prescient as they rocketed to the highest of the rankings.

For Frazier, “someday higher” helps her preserve positivity and focus in on a couple of areas to enhance at a time, fairly than worrying about every thing without delay:

“The entire thing is ‘What can I do every day to make one thing just a bit bit higher?’ And that’s the place the ‘someday higher’ is available in, as a result of it makes you not take a look at the massive image of ‘oh my gosh, that wasn’t good.’”

“Personally, positivity is one thing I thrive on,” Frazier added. “Simply excited about it like ‘okay, which may not have been good, however what did I repair on it this flip.’ ‘Okay I had my arms a bit of straighter. Simply on that, it was a bit of higher.’”

For Lauzon, this helps her keep away from dwelling on earlier routines or errors. It’s additionally led to her enchancment on bars – an occasion she’s competed greater than a dozen instances this season as an all-arounder.

Past all of the work and focus, this staff merely loves gymnastics.

Coach Justin described one among their core values as pleasure, which is one thing he mentioned reveals up in each Frazier and Lauzon’s gymnastics. Coach Liz talked about having time every week to “play” and experiment with new expertise they may not compete – which led to the creation of Gabby Perea’s distinctive dismount – a aspect somi linked to a 1.5-twisting again tuck off the aspect of the beam.

This general tradition is one cause Cal needs to be anticipated to stay a contender past 2024.

Even when they lose key seniors like Perea and Andi Li, the Bears are already seeing contributions from newcomers like Mayhew, who put in a 9.950 in her vault debut and made a splash on flooring with constant scores above 9.9.

Together with the brand new freshmen, the staff is trying ahead to utilizing their new apply facility. The renovations are anticipated to be achieved by subsequent college yr and can proceed to attract in additional prime recruits.

“It’s going to create nice alternatives in recruiting; it’s going to create nice alternatives for us to coach athletes above the extent that they’re competing,” Justin mentioned.

As this system celebrates their fifty-year anniversary all season, it’s clear that is simply the beginning for the Golden Bears.

“Truthfully, 50 years is fairly outstanding,” Lauzon mentioned. “It’s wonderful to see how far this system has come.”

Regardless of all of the success, Coach Justin is attempting to remain grounded.

“We’re celebrating our fiftieth yr of this system,” Justin mentioned. “The rating shouldn’t be one thing that we will management, however it’s indicative of the flexibility of our staff and we see that daily … Going again to the someday higher mission, if they’re actually doing every thing they will to be someday higher, all of these different issues are gonna begin to fall into place – accolades will come, successes will come.”

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