UCLA gymnastics may have more to reveal.
“They are coming to life,” said coach Valorie Kondos Field.
No. 7 UCLA won its 21st NCAA Regional title in Columbus, Ohio, on April 4 with its second-highest score of the season – 197.500. Out of four events, the balance beam had the Bruins’ final four competitors scoring 9.9s or higher, yielding a season high.
“I think one difference was the energy. We were able to keep it up and keep it together,” said freshman Sonya Meraz. “We have the skills, just needed to put it together.”
This is exactly how the Bruins feel about the NCAA championship, which starts Friday – they’re finally ready to unleash their X-factor.
“There is an equation for it: You gotta work hard (and) from that hard work you get trust, and then you add fun to the mix with your team,” Kondos Field said. “And that brings that calm and enthusiastic confidence that allows you to do your best.”
The NCAA championship event will be held in two semifinal sessions – Friday afternoon and evening – and UCLA’s opponents are No. 2 Florida, No. 6 Michigan, No. 10 Georgia, No. 11 Stanford and No. 3 Utah. Similar to the format of the regional, the Bruins will have two byes during the meet that they said they will utilize to keep the energy up but the nerves off. From the two sessions, the top three teams will compete in the Super Six team final on Saturday at 4 p.m. The individual events will follow the next day.
“The thing about meets against Utah is that they (were both held) at Utah, where they had like 1,500 fans all cheering for them,” said junior Danusia Francis. “So I am excited to compete against them in a more level playing field without having all fans on their side.”
Though the Oklahoma Sooners are the highest-ranked team in the NCAA championship, the Bruins’ top competitor may be the Utah Utes.
Utah has handed UCLA its only two losses of the season – both coming in Salt Lake City. However, the Utes are without their key all-rounder senior Tory Wilson, who tore her achilles tendon in her final floor routine in the Pac-12 championship, after scoring a perfect 10 on vault and 9.875 or higher in two other events. Also, Utah is without its usual home territory, where the Utes were 6-0 this season, including a win over the vaunted Michigan on March 6.
Currently, UCLA has kept the practice routines the same, focusing on the same things that it has been emphasizing all season.
“We work on 100 percent hits and 60 percent sticks and keeping up the energy,” Meraz said. “And (for me) individually … to stick all my landings and on bars to hit every single handstand.”
The team has been progressing throughout this season, and the Bruins’ strong performance at the NCAA Columbus Regional revealed that their mistake-ridden performance at Pac-12 championship was merely a bump in the road, instead of a sign of things to come. And just a session before the NCAA championship, the team revealed that it might have been hiding its full capacity.
“I think we really have a good shot (to win the title),” Francis said. “And that we just (have to) keep our cool.”