CLEVELAND ““ As soon as the Alabama celebrations had died down, UCLA gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field walked over to the Bruin crowd and led the fans in an 8-clap.
Soon afterward, the entire UCLA gymnastics team followed suit, climbing up on the vault podium and leading its supporters in a rousing cheer.
There were familiar faces in the UCLA crowd for every gymnast: close friends, family and teammates. These fans had been with the team every step of the way and shared the bitter disappointment that comes with losing a national championship.
More than 2,000 miles away from Los Angeles, the UCLA fans turned out in respectable numbers for all three days of the competition, getting to their feet every time a Bruin gymnast stuck a routine.
“Having our family and friends come out to support us means a lot,” redshirt senior Brittani McCullough said. “It means a lot to look up in the stands and see all that blue. And it definitely helps.”
“¨Freshmen step up
The impressive performances of the underclassmen were one of the highlights of Saturday’s team finals. Freshmen Sydney Sawa and Sam Peszek both set career highs of 9.900 on vault. Sawa was a late substitution on the apparatus and was put in the lineup after sticking her warm-up vault.
Despite being bothered by a hamstring injury, freshman Olivia Courtney competed in the all-around and finished with the Bruins’ highest individual total of 39.425.
“I’m really excited that the freshmen came out and competed like they did,” Kondos Field said. “They are gamers. They hit season highs at this meet, so we are really excited moving forward with this team.”
“¨Freshman Sam Peszek crowned 2011 NCAA individual champion on balance beam
Peszek scored a 9.900 to win the title, the sixth UCLA NCAA champion on beam and the first Bruin to do so since Kristen Maloney in 2005. Hoping to impress the judges with an increased difficulty level, Peszek added a skill to her routine that she practiced often during her elite career but has not performed all year.
“I had so much fun out there competing, and I’m kind of sad the weekend is ending,” Peszek said. “To end with the beam title is amazing. I feel great. I worked really hard on beam. It’s my favorite event, and it’s exciting for me to finish like this.”
A total of five Bruins qualified for the individual event finals on Sunday. Junior Aisha Gerber tied for second place on beam with an average of 9.8875, while McCullough finished in a three-way tie on floor for second place, scoring a 9.900.
“It was really exciting but kind of sad when it ended,” said McCullough, last year’s floor exercise champion. “But it was a lot of fun to do, and that was my goal really, to go out there and have fun performing my last routine. I did the best to my ability, and I felt great doing it.”