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Davis, California

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Column: Setting the bar

The Aggies’ goals have changed a bit.

At the beginning of the season, the UC Davis gymnastics team wanted to be ranked in the top 45 nationally and win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

Currently ranked No. 41 in the nation, they still want that MPSF championship. However, only five spots away from a berth in the NCAA Tournament (the top 36 qualify), the Aggies would like a nationals appearance as well.

“Now we’re shooting for a top 35 [ranking],” said coach John Lavallee. “We’re far ahead of where we were projected to be.”

The Aggies have gotten to this point by posting some of their highest scores in years.

These include a 194.025 at home against Seattle Pacific on Feb. 5, the fourth-highest in program history. UC Davis then matched that score on Friday in a tri-meet against Eastern Michigan and Sacramento State.

“The [night against Seattle Pacific] was not only our season high, but also our highest number of hit routines,” Lavallee said. “We hit all 24 routines that night. That’s a very rare occurrence. It’s only happened once since I’ve been here.”

These top scores at home will go toward the Aggies’ bid for the NCAA Tournament. The only issue is the system by which the rankings are measured. The regional qualifying score is determined using the highest three road scores, then the next three highest scores – home or away.

That’s why UC Davis has put an extra emphasis on executing away from home.

“Our performance on the road is imperative,” Lavallee said. “We developed some strategies to help us perform better on the road. We identified the fact that it was a need and as a result we’ve been able to make that happen.”

The Aggies were able to do this recently as they received a 193.075 in San Jose on Feb. 26, the second-highest road score in program history. UC Davis was second in the meet to No. 36 San Jose State.

These high scores aren’t flukes. The Aggies preparation for these types of performances began in the fall when they learned to work together as a team.

“We’ve used what we’ve learned from the past to move forward,” said senior co-captain Michelle Bobonski. “We figured out what we needed to do in the fall in order to help this season. We worked hard together as a unit to figure out what we needed to do to be successful. I think we’ve reflected that.”

This was shown early in the year as UC Davis defeated Sacramento State for the first time since 2002.

“It was amazing – a really good feeling,” Bobonski said. “We’ve been known as the underdogs, so to go out there and beat them at their home was huge for us. It was probably bigger than conference for us just because it’s been so long.”

The Aggies then defeated the Hornets again five weeks later and did it once more on Friday.

UC Davis has been performing beyond their pre-season expectations. Now that the Aggies are in this spot, the key is to just keep doing what they’ve been doing all season.

“We need to continue what we do in the gym every day,” Bobonski said. “We’re looking really good right now and are staying consistent. Routines are so easy so it’s just a matter of going out there and having fun.”

Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament this year, however, won’t be as easy as it was the last time UC Davis went.

The Aggies won the USA Gymnastics Collegiate national title in 1999. Back then, six teams from every region made it. Now, the top 36 overall are chosen.

This makes the task slightly more difficult, Lavallee said. Still, UC Davis has every reason to go for the prize.

“We were shooting high and we knew we were capable of it,” Bobonski said.

Lavallee mirrors his team’s belief.

“It’s ‘carpe diem,'” Lavallee said. “We’re going to seize the day and go as far as we can.”

MAX ROSENBLUM knows if there was one thing he can’t do, it’s any type of gymnastics. That’s why he’ll stick to watching the experts do it. E-mail him at sports@theaggie.org to tell him this is a good idea.

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