In Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, No. 4 UCLA gymnastics put on a show.
The Bruins dazzled and danced their way to a 198.125 team score, the highest in the nation this season.
After the meet, coach Valorie Kondos Field opened her binder and revealed the driving force behind her team’s cleanest performance in years – stickers. Glittery, multicolored stars were plastered all over a page marking each gymnast’s accomplishments.
“It’s literally like we’re in elementary school,” said redshirt senior Peng-Peng Lee.
Friendly games and little challenges have become the norm for UCLA this season.
Leading up to Saturday’s meet, the team had intrasquad competitions that got tougher and tougher the more successful it was.
Against Stanford, the game was centered on getting stickers.
“It doesn’t matter what it is; they will play whatever game you put in front of them,” Kondos Field said. “That’s why they’re so much fun. They’re not too good for anything.”
Even when the big scores came fast and furious one after another, the team maintained its focus on the stickers.
“Honestly, we weren’t even focusing on the scores throughout each event,” Lee said. “We were focused on the game. Everyone bought in and everyone wanted to play the game. It put us on a really good track.”
The meet’s big showcase moment came on the uneven bars. Lee and freshman Madison Kocian each recorded their first collegiate perfect 10s.
Kocian’s uneven bars routines in previous meets hovered around the high 9.8 to 9.9 range. She was missing one small detail: She wasn’t catching all of her handstands.
Against Stanford, however, she did something else for motivation. She set up a game between herself and Lee to see who could hit the most handstands.
“(Associate head coach Chris Waller) told me to challenge someone else in my handstands because that was really all I was kind of missing,” Kocian said. “So I challenged Peng (with) this competition.”
Lee, whose warmups were up-and-down in terms of execution according to Kocian, watched the freshman hit every handstand, hit every scoring element and stick the landing.
She then saw freshman Kyla Ross almost grab a 10.0 of her own.
“After Maddie Kocian hit all of her handstands, it really motivated me. Kyla Ross’ almost 10 (did) as well,” Lee said. “It was one after the other and that’s what we’re doing in practice, so it felt normal to bring practice into the meet.”
Lee matched Kocian, and their competition ended in a draw. The real winner was UCLA, which benefited from the two perfect scores.
To keep the team focused and grounded for the next meet against No. 5 Utah in Salt Lake City, Kondos Field and her coaching staff are working on another game for the team.
“We’ve got to come up with another challenge,” Kondos Field said. “We come up with a challenge for them every time we do intrasquad or every time we do a meet.”