The 12 best collegiate gymnastics teams in the nation are set to vie for a spot in the Super Six team finals and, ultimately, the NCAA Championships.
Looking to repeat as NCAA champions at Kent State University in Cleveland this weekend is No. 2 seed UCLA, competing for its seventh gymnastics national title and the school’s 107th NCAA championship.
UCLA earned a No. 2 seed with a late-season surge and a 197.425 score at the Athens Regional, which was the highest of all regional scores.
The Bruins will take on No. 3 seed Oklahoma, No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Georgia, No. 10 Arkansas and No. 11 Illinois in the early semifinal session today, with the top three teams advancing to Saturday’s Super Six.
The environment the Bruins will face is nothing new for last year’s individual champion on floor, redshirt senior Brittani McCullough.
“I know we can win this, as long as we focus on what we can do,” McCullough said. “I’m also excited that it’s on a podium. I love competing on a podium.”
McCullough is ready to perform on that big stage that is the podium. Her leadership and her experience helped carry the team through its rough start.
“From the beginning of the season, the upperclassmen helped get the freshmen acclimated not only in the gym but in school as well,” freshman standout Samantha Peszek said. “When we had bumps in the road, the seniors were the first to stay optimistic and help get the team back on track.”
Peszek started the season sidelined with a foot fracture, but since her recovery, she made her way into the spotlight.
Coach Valorie Kondos Field realizes the ability in Peszek as well. She is keeping the freshman in three events, despite her mistake on the uneven bars at the regional. Kondos Field is also putting McCullough back on beam in place of junior Tauny Frattone, trusting McCullough’s higher scoring potential.
But don’t expect Kondos Field to overcoach her team.
“By now, the majority of my work is done,” Kondos Field said. “At regionals, I pretty much sat back and enjoyed the meet. I’m anticipating being able to do the same thing the next two days, but I’ll be ready to lead the charge should I need to step in.”
The Bruins have competed against three of the other 11 teams this season: No. 4 Oregon State, No. 7 Georgia and No. 8 Utah.
Though UCLA may not have the best record against those teams ““ each defeated the Bruins once this year ““ none of that matters now.
“I feel like competitions are my playground, and my nerves turn into adrenaline,” Peszek said. “I’m just ready to be a part of UCLA’s renowned legacy.”