The UCLA women’s gymnastics team, self-titled LA’s true super action heroes, entered the sold-out John Wooden Center to thundering applause and flashing lights Sunday afternoon.
Channeling their super-hero counterparts, the Bruins (1-0) started the meet in truly spectacular style before stumbling in the final two rotations to slip past Utah (0-1) 196.075-196.025.
With four scores of 9.90 and above, including senior Tauny Frattone’s meet-high 9.950, preseason No. 1 pick UCLA blew out Utah in the first rotation. The Bruins earned a 49.550 while the Utes struggled on bars and scored a 48.450.
UCLA maintained its comfortable lead against Utah going into their third rotation. It was on balance beam that the Bruins suddenly seemed to lose their confidence.
Wobbles were prevalent through the first three routines and a fall by senior Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs in the second half of the line-up dropped UCLA’s beam total to 48.375.
“I am not happy with balance beam at all,” coach Valorie Kondos Field said. “There was absolutely no reason for them to play tight. We have been doing way too many intrasquads. Last Friday, we hit 12 routines in a row so this is not OK.”
Despite committing a few mistakes on floor including an out-of-bounds deduction, UCLA hung on to edge Utah by a mere 0.050. The Utes forced themselves back into the competition, putting up a score of above 49 in three of their four events.
“Something we are working on as a team is focusing on all four events,” freshman Mattie Larson said. “We think of it as four quarters and you are not done til the end. So we are really working on that.”
Larson, who was a U.S. national team member from 2007-2010, made her collegiate debut in an impressive fashion, competing in all four events.
“It was so different than any competition I had done,” Larson said. “In elite you do a lot of competitions but it is more individual. It was a different feeling competing for a team.”
With fans getting their first look at the high-touted Larson, Kondos Field was impressed with the freshman’s composure.
“I think Mattie Larson did great,” she said. “She knows that there are a lot of spotlights on her. She is a world-renowned athlete and so she knows that people are watching her every time she goes out. That is a lot for people to handle.”
In addition to Larson, sophomore Sam Peszek made her UCLA debut on floor, scoring an impressive 9.875. It was the first time that Peszek had competed in all four events since 2008.
“I had some mess ups, I mean it wasn’t a perfect day, but to hit all four, I’m happy with that,” Peszek said.
“I was most nervous for floor. But I kind of treat floor like a show and I love performing and smiling and getting the crowd involved so it is always fun.”
Although she did not compete in the all-around, redshirt junior Vanessa Zamarripa returned to the Bruins’ lineup for the first time since rupturing her Achilles tendon in late 2010. Zamarripa scored a 9.90 on vault and a 9.825 on uneven bars.
With the arrival of Larson and the full recovery of Peszek and Zamarripa from injury, the Bruins add even more talent to their already deep roster.
UCLA clearly has the potential to live up to its current No. 1 ranking but Kondos Field believes that her team did not showcase anything special against Utah.
“I wanted to go out and make a statement nationally that we are a 197-plus team on a bad day,” Kondos Field said. “And that is the type of team we are but tonight, we were a 196 team. It is not like we got ripped off, that is the performance we had. The silver lining is that we can go back in the gym and work hard.”