On Thursday, the UCLA gymnastics team called a private meeting: no coaches, no moderators, just the student athletes. With an important meet against No. 3 Oregon State (9-1, 4-1 Pac-10) approaching, the team collectively decided to refocus its energy going into Sunday’s competition.
The pep talk greatly paid off for UCLA, as the No. 9 Bruins (7-2, 5-2 Pac-10) defeated the Beavers 197.375-196.325 at Pauley Pavilion, scoring their highest team total since March 6, 2005.
It was a day of firsts as the team surpassed the 197.00 mark for the first time this year and set a new season-high score of 49.375 on vault. UCLA also tied its season-high total of 49.475 on floor, and sophomore Vanessa Zamarripa set a new personal best in the all-around with a 39.675. Sophomore Aisha Gerber made her season debut on vault with a solid 9.825.
“When we had a team meeting before this (competition), we decided we were going to put up the score that we had been working so hard for, and we did it this weekend,” Gerber said. “The best feeling today was that we were all in our own bubble and were just engaged with every person on our team throughout the entire meet.”
Like so many times this season, UCLA took the lead early against Oregon State on vault and bars. However, with memories of meltdowns on balance beam and floor exercise against Stanford last meet fresh in their minds, the Bruins had no room for error heading into their third rotation.
Rather than anchoring the beam rotation like usual, senior Anna Li and sophomore Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs were placed in the lineup as the first two gymnasts. Coach Valorie Kondos Field decided to switch up the order on the apparatus to avoid consecutive falls on beam by the first three competitors.
“There is so much pressure to make the lineup,” Kondos Field said. “By mixing it up, there no longer was really any segregation between those fighting for a spot and those who have solidified theirs. It was just Bruins up on beam so it took the pressure off of everyone.”
And that new strategy, one Kondos Field will adopt for the remainder of the season, certainly worked.
“(The switch) didn’t affect my performance, it was just a totally different mentality,” said Li, who was UCLA’s first competitor on beam for the first time in her collegiate career. “I have always anchored or gone toward the end (of the rotation) since my freshman year, but we wanted to switch things up and go with someone steady at the beginning to create some good momentum.”
And with the postseason fast approaching, Sunday’s win provides a much desired shot in the arm to UCLA’s regional qualifying score.
“The win is a huge confidence booster,” Gerber said. “It’s nice to know that the things that we have been trying to change in the gym are really paying off.”