DULUTH, Ga. “”mdash; Senior Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs landed her aerial flip on beam leaning backwards and began slightly flailing her arms, trying to regain her balance, but lost the battle.
Despite being one of UCLA’s most consistent beam workers this year, Hopfner-Hibbs’ mistake came at a crucial moment for the Bruins.
“The skill that Elyse (Hopfner-Hibbs) fell on on beam is the hardest skill that anybody did in this competition,” said coach Valorie Kondos Field. “She didn’t fall on a simple skill ““ it’s a really difficult skill. That’s athletics.”
Trailing Florida and Alabama at the NCAA gymnastics team finals heading into its final event, UCLA needed every tenth of a point it could earn to overtake the two SEC teams and win the national title.
But mistakes by the Bruins’ senior leaders, Aisha Gerber and Hopfner-Hibbs, ended the meet on a disappointing note for the team, and UCLA, on a bye for the final rotation, was forced to watch from the sidelines as Alabama won its second consecutive national championship.
“It just breaks my heart to have two of our seniors who are so, so strong on beam make mistakes. It’s heartbreaking,” said Kondos Field.
The Crimson Tide earned a 197.850 and Florida took second place with a 197.775. A tenth of a point separated UCLA, who was third, from its seventh national title. Stanford came in fourth, followed by Utah then Arkansas.
In a testament to the strength of the field at this year’s Super Six, UCLA’s total of 197.750 was actually 0.025 points higher than the score they earned to win the national championship in 2010. Five teams in this year’s finals scored above a 197.
“NCAA gymnastics is a great event because what it comes down to is that you have got to be perfect on a given night,” said Kondos Field. “Twenty years ago, you could make a mistake and still win but now you can’t even get out of Regionals if you make a mistake. It’s extremely competitive.”
While Hopfner-Hibb’s fall on beam may seem like an obvious place to pinpoint where UCLA’s chance at the national title disappeared, the senior’s two 9.9 performances following falls during the Friday’s semifinals were critical to helping the Bruins qualify to the Super Six.
This is a point that her teammates are quick to emphasize.
“It was kind of returning the favor in a way, paying it back. Yesterday, I fell on floor and (Hopfner-Hibbs) had to go after me. The pressure was on her to make it,” said sophomore Sam Peszek, who closed out UCLA’s rotation with a 9.950 on beam. “If she hadn’t hit, we may not have even made it to the Super Six”¦ that is how the team works. It’s hard to be perfect two days in a row.”
Redshirt junior Vanessa Zamarripa, who fell on beam during Friday’s semifinals, agreed with Peszek.
“She made a mistake but we all do that. She might be having a hard time with it but I’m really proud of her because if she hadn’t hit, we wouldn’t be competing in the Super Six. She gave us the opportunity to be here today.”
While the Bruins’ performance on beam may be the most heartbreaking memory from Saturday’s team finals, coach Valorie Kondos Field is determined not to let it define the season.
“My biggest take-away is to live what I preach, that I never base our success on one event,” she said.
“I’m going to give myself time to be upset about this and then I’m going to get past it because this team was amazing every single day. These are great athletes and great people.”
BY THE NUMBERS:
49.475: UCLA tied its season high on uneven bars at the team finals
39.775: Zamarripa’s all-around score tied a career-high
3: The Super Six was a Pac-12 versus SEC showdown. Each conference had three teams competing.