Tuesday, October 15

Gymnasts return with eyes on reclaiming the NCAA title after a rough season with injuries and inconsistencies

Balance beam NCAA champion Samantha Peszek looks to become a strong force in the upcoming season.

Balance beam NCAA champion Samantha Peszek looks to become a strong force in the upcoming season.

Blaine Ohigashi

Gymnastics season preview

Key incomer:

Cassie Whitcomb, freshman
As one of three incoming freshmen, Whitcomb will be important in replacing the graduated seniors.

Key returners:

Samantha Peszek, sophomore
After a tough year for the Bruins, Peszek will be a major player in UCLA's hunt for the national title.

Vanessa Zamarripa, redshirt junior
Zamarripa should be important for the Bruins as she bounces back from injury in 2010.

This article is part of the Daily Bruin's Orientation Issue 2011 coverage. To view the entire package of articles, columns and multimedia, please visit:

Luck was not on the side of the UCLA gymnastics team when their season started last winter. Injuries to rising redshirt junior Vanessa Zamarripa and rising sophomore Sam Peszek left the team short-handed and demoralized.

Looking at the 2011-2012 season, the optimism has returned as the injured Zamarripa and Peszek should finally return to full strength.

Zamarripa consistently scored 9.9s or close in all four events during her sophomore season, capturing the 2010 NCAA vault title. Redshirt senior Mizuki Sato will also be returning after sustaining an ACL injury early in the previous season.

Zamarripa and Sato will be important contributors to the Bruins’ beam rotation. UCLA struggled throughout last season to be consistent on the balance beam, often being forced to count a fall in their rotation.

After finishing runner-up to Alabama at the 2011 NCAA Championships, the Bruins will be determined to reclaim the title they captured in 2010.

Rising sophomores Olivia Courtney, Sydney Sawa and Peszek, who were major contributors to the team last season as freshman, will return as experienced collegiate gymnasts. With a year of NCAA gymnastics under their belts, the trio of athletes should score higher and more consistently.

The team’s incoming freshman class boasts three gymnasts: Cassie Whitcomb, Christine Peng Peng Lee and Dana McDonald, all with extensive national team experience.

Lee is a Canadian national team member who has trained alongside rising senior Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs. However, she will be deferring until fall 2012 along with signee Mattie Larson in order to train for the 2012 Olympics.

Replacing the leadership of Brittani McCullough and Niki Tom will be a difficult task but UCLA has several key gymnasts who will become seniors next season.

Rising seniors Hopfner-Hibbs and Aisha Gerber are both All-Americans whose contributions to the team have gone beyond just athletics. Along with Zamarripa’s return, their guidance will be central to the success of next season.

Compiled by Mansi Sheth, Bruin Sports senior staff.

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