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California wins NCAA gymnastics title

April 19, 1997

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) _ With a record-setting performance, California completed a long journey back to the top in men’s gymnastics.

Twenty-two years after winning the NCAA championship, California finally did it again, beating Oklahoma and Iowa in Friday night’s team finals with consistent _ and at times spectacular _ routines throughout its well-balanced lineup.

The Golden Bears compiled 233.825 points, the highest figure in NCAA regional or national competition since the rules were changed in 1995 to count only four scores in an event instead of five.

Cal had the previous high of 233.125 in this year’s Western Regional.

It was California’s third title overall and eased the disappointment of last year’s second-place finish to Ohio State.

``We were narrowly edged out and we brought a bunch of hungry kids back,″ Cal coach Barry Weiner said. ``It’s hard to be second. It’s hard to miss by a little. My guys really wanted it. They were not to be denied.″

Oklahoma was second with 232.725 points, its highest finish since winning the 1991 championship, and Iowa was third at 231.80. Those scores were season highs for both teams.

Senior Trent Wells was Cal’s top performer. He stuck a perfect landing in scoring a career-high 9.85 in the vault, matched his career best of 9.85 with a series of high-flying flips in the floor exercise and also earned a 9.85 on the parallel bars.

``He’s awesome, isn’t he?″ Weiner said. ``Do you know that kid was a walk-on? He walked into my program four years ago and I remember looking at his videotape and thinking he had ability and I told him he could come to Cal and now, oh my gosh.

``He’s a senior national team member. He’s an All-American. He’s got original skills. He’s just phenomenal.″

Evgenii Zherebchevskiy, one of two Ukranians who joined the Cal program this season, posted a 9.875 in the horizontal bar for the highest score of the evening. The other, Oleg Kosiak, earned a 9.8 on the rings and senior David Kruse scored a career-high 9.725 on the pommel horse.

The championship came in Cal’s sixth season under Weiner, who took over in 1991 after the Golden Bears had gone 1-18 the year before _ the worst season in school history.

Before its runner-up finish last year, California had not placed among the nation’s top three since a third-place finish in 1976. The Golden Bears won the title in 1975 and also in 1968.

``They were great once,″ Weiner said. ``When I went to school (at Temple), Cal was the place to be. I thought it was possible (to win again), so we just went to work. I never realized it would be this fast.″

California led after every rotation, although Oklahoma stayed close most of the way as Dan Fink earned a 9.85 on the rings and teammates Jeremy Killen and Casey Bryan, the runner-up in Thursday night’s all-around competition, each scored 9.85 on the floor exercise.

But California never faltered and when Wells completed his team’s rotation on the parallel bars, the Golden Bears had a lead of .825 points heading into the final round _ too much for Oklahoma to overcome.

That enabled the Cal competitors to relax their last event, the horizontal bar, and Weiner pumped his fist at the small but boisterous group of Golden Bears’ fans after Zherebchevskiy’s sensational effort on the bar.

Iowa, in the team finals for the first time since winning the title in 1969, never got back into it after a mediocre performance in the floor exercise, its second event. Still, coach Tom Dunn was happy to finish in the top three for the first time in his 17 seasons.

``We broke a school record yesterday (in the prelims) and broke it again today,″ Dunn said. ``I was pleased with the effort. It just wasn’t good enough in this company.″

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