I blinked for a second during Vanessa Zamarripa’s vault in Saturday’s team finals. She landed on her knees and I blinked again.
Was that practice?
Did they not adjust the vault correctly?
So many mouths in Pauley were open in sheer disbelief.
If there was one thing that I never thought I would see in my four years covering UCLA gymnastics, it was Zamarripa landing a vault on her knees. She’s the top collegiate vaulter in the nation and has nine perfect 10s in the event.
Nobody really knows what went wrong. Not coach Valorie Kondos Field, not Zamarripa.
Maybe it was because of bizarre hand placement or an awkward twist. Or maybe it was because Zamarripa just didn’t have anything left to give.
As a senior leader and the most accomplished gymnast at UCLA, she has fought all season long to keep her team in the race for a chance at a national title. By the time she began her vault, that chance had already slipped away – and she knew it.
“Even if I had gotten a 10, we still would have been behind,” said a tearful Zamarripa after the team finals.
Florida was just better. So was Alabama. So was Oklahoma. Their best gymnasts competed on Saturday, UCLA’s – with the exception of Zamarripa – didn’t.
The Bruins have been brought to their knees by injury this season and all the heart in the world can’t compensate for talent.
The UCLA team that won its sixth title in 2010 had multiple gymnasts who consistently executed routines to near perfection for every event (9.9s and 9.95s). Without top gymnasts Samantha Peszek, Mattie Larson or Christine Peng-Peng Lee, this depleted 2013 squad sometimes struggled to score above 9.85s.
There are inspiring stories within the thread of UCLA’s season, such as walk-on senior Alyssa Pritchett scoring 9.95s on floor. The coaching staff has preached all year about the importance of personal growth and overcoming adversity, but ultimately, the level of gymnastics executed by the Bruins was not national championship caliber.
This was obvious to anyone familiar with the team, especially compared to the talent on previous UCLA squads. Kondos Field was openly candid about it. Zamarripa was resigned to it.
“We knew from the beginning that the odds were against us,” she said. “Some people didn’t even think we would make it to (the Super Six).”
The senior’s fall on vault was an undeserving end for an athlete that Kondos Field called, “one of the greatest gymnasts that has ever competed (in) this sport” and “irreplaceable.” But as UCLA’s last routine in Saturday’s team finals, it was a fitting end to a difficult season.
Email Sheth at firstname.lastname@example.org.