Monday, March 25

Gymnasts hope to defend title going into NCAA Championships


With 12 teams remaining, Bruins must first compete for a spot in Super Six in championships

Freshman Samantha Peszek and No. 2 seed UCLA strive to defend the Bruin title in the NCAA Championships to take place this weekend in Cleveland.

Freshman Samantha Peszek and No. 2 seed UCLA strive to defend the Bruin title in the NCAA Championships to take place this weekend in Cleveland.

Blaine Ohigashi


Gymnastics

NCAA CHampionships
Today through Sunday
Cleveland
Live stats on NCAA.com



2011 NCAA Gymnastics Championships

As national defending champions in gymnastics, the UCLA Bruins are determined to give it their all in the three-day tournament this weekend. The top three teams from each session will move on to the Super Six team finals on Saturday. Individual finals will take place on Sunday.

Afternoon session

No. 2 UCLA
No. 3 Oklahoma
No. 6 Michigan
No. 7 Georgia
No. 10 Arkansas
No. 11 Illinois

Evening session

No. 1 Alabama
No. 4 Oregon State
No. 5 Florida
No. 8 Utah
No. 9 Nebraska
No. 12 Kent State

SOURCE: NCAA

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.”

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