It looked like the perfect opening night.
A sweep of the individual and all-around titles, an NCAA first when two Olympic gold medalists competed at Pauley Pavilion and a 195.700-195.350 win for No. 4 UCLA (1-0) over No. 17 Arkansas (0-1).
But for the defending Pac-12 champions, it was still a disappointing performance.
“They trained a lot better than how they competed,” said coach Valorie Kondos Field. “Our goal is to go in and compete the gymnastics that we train, and we did not do that tonight. Every one of our athletes would have scored a tenth higher on vault in warmups than in competition because we were so tight.”
Four freshman were in that vault rotation for UCLA, but it was sophomore Madison Preston who came away tied for the event title after sticking her Yurchenko full for a 9.90.
The headliners of the event, however, were freshmen Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian.
With their 9.875 and 9.825 respectively, the pair became the first Olympic gold medalists to compete in NCAA gymnastics.
“I was nervous because the last time everyone saw me was at my very best at the Olympics,” Kocian said. “The expectations were there, but coach Chris (Waller) reminded me that I was prepared and my teammates kept me confident in myself and in the work I’ve been doing.”
Both Kocian and Ross combined for seven hit routines and five meet titles in their debut in front of an energized Pauley Pavilion crowd.
The Bruins’ own energy dipped over the final three rotations. Kondos Field said her team was drained emotionally from the anticipation leading into the meet.
Junior JaNay Honest, the defending uneven bars Pac-12 co-champion, fell on her opening release in the leadoff spot.
Her teammates rebounded with Ross, Kocian and redshirt senior Christine Peng-Peng Lee tallying 9.875s to win the event.
On the balance beam minutes later, Lee and sophomore Katelyn Ohashi both attempted difficult tumbles but couldn’t land them cleanly.
Although they managed to stay on the beam, UCLA was forced to count their 9.675 and 9.650 in the team score.
The miscues continued on the floor exercise, historically one of the Bruins’ best events.
Both junior Napualani Hall and freshman Felicia Hano were one tumbling pass away from a hitting a clean routine. But Hall opened up her landing too early while Hano under-rotated and landed on her chest to score meet-lows 9.225 and 9.050 respectively.
With just one floor routine left, the Razorbacks had edged ahead of the home team by less than .400 of a point.
UCLA’s anchor, senior Hallie Mossett, who had a sternal fracture most of last season, nailed her routine for a 9.80 to clinch the win for the Bruins.
“In those circumstances, people tend to be frazzled,” Mossett said. “I just needed to show my team that I was absolutely OK, and nothing would stop me from pulling it together to get us that win.”
Kocian and Preston tied for the event title on floor with Kocian also leaving her first collegiate meet as the balance beam and all-around champion.
“I was happy with how they stayed in the game,” Kondos Field said. “Now we can get back to doing normal because this was not our normal.”