Danusia Francis had some big shoes to fill.
The sophomore was up next on beam. Just prior, the chants of “10” from the crowd after redshirt junior Samantha Peszek’s beam routine turned into jeers at the judges after they unveiled a 9.925. The fans were left hungry.
Moments later, Francis stuck her side aerial into a full twist dismount. More chants for “10″ erupted from the crowd and this time, the scorecard showed a clear 10.
Francis’ was one of many big scores that gave the No. 7 UCLA gymnastics team an overall score of 197.050 and a victory over Utah State and Bowling Green State, who scored 196.000 and 194.175, respectively, on a day where the team’s seniors were honored for their four years of dedication to the program.
The fans in Pauley Pavilion were treated to performances by Peszek and seniors Olivia Courtney and Sydney Sawa on all four apparatuses doing what might be their last routines at a home meet.
“I was getting really emotional while they were doing their floor routines,” Francis said. “It’s just inspirational to have three people so great leading us this year, and it’s sad to see them go.”
Coach Valerie Kondos Field said she’ll miss the “grit” that Courtney brought to the team, the same “grit” that gave Courtney the will to compete for her team in the 2011 NCAA finals with a hamstring injury.
For Sawa, Kondos Field will miss the “magic” she brought to the Pauley Pavilion crowds.
“There aren’t many people who would pretend they were fighting aliens in an athletic competition,” Kondos Field said. “She made everybody believe that she was fighting aliens out here. That’s what it’s all about: entertainment and getting the fans into it.”
It was also Peszek’s first time performing the floor routine in Pauley Pavilion. But the verdict is still out there on whether it’ll also be her last, or if she’ll return for her final year of eligibility.
“Depending on how my body feels, it’s had a lot of wear and tear, a lot of surgeries, but the passion is still there,” Peszek said. “My favorite part of gymnastics is competing and so it just depends on a lot of things on whether it’s the right decision for me.”
It’s a decision she said she will only make once the season is over.
It might be the fourth-years’ final run in Pauley, but their careers as Bruins will still continue as they make a final push for the postseason starting with the Pac-12 gymnastics championships this week.
And as the fourth-years hit their various routines on Sunday, they proved that they could still be relied upon for the remainder of the season.
“They’re three of our best competitors,” Kondos Field said. “They’re the ones you want out there competing; they’re the ones you want to go to battle with.”