Monday, January 27

UCLA gymnastics triumphs over Utah with thrilling comeback routines

Senior Sophina DeJesus performed on floor for the first time in the 2016 season, scoring a 9.925 and electrifying the home crowd Saturday afternoon. (Angie Wang/Daily Bruin senior staff)


No. 7 Utah197.075
No. 5 UCLA197.100

In another wire-to-wire meet for the gymnastics team, the outcome came down to the final floor routine.

No. 7 Utah (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) led for nearly the entire two-hour meet Saturday, but No. 5 UCLA gymnastics (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12) reclaimed the lead when it mattered most, snapping a six-meet losing streak against the two-time defending Pac-12 champions.

With the Bruins trailing 147.725 to 147.500 heading into the last event, the UCLA coaching staff looked for confident, energized floor routines from the entire lineup.

“I just said to them ‘Do you want it? Well then you need to go get it,’” said coach Valorie Kondos Field.

Junior Mikaela Gerber, coming back from an illness, opened for the Bruins with a shaky routine, earning just a 9.675, the lowest mark of the meet. After Gerber’s subpar score, the Bruins would need near-perfection from their remaining gymnasts to win the meet.

They got it – four of the next five Bruin routines would hit a 9.925 or higher.

Performing for the first time on floor in front of a raucous Pauley Pavilion, freshman Madison Preston began the comeback with her second career-high score of the night – a 9.925.

After senior Danusia Francis notched a 9.825, senior Sophina DeJesus took to the mat to make her season debut on floor and nearly matched her career high with a 9.925. Ending her routine with “the dab,” Dejesus sent the 7,546-person crowd into a frenzy.

The crowd’s energy stayed consistent. Second to last in UCLA’s floor rotation, junior Angi Cipra wowed the audience with her renowned cell phone routine and posted a score of 9.975 – the highest of her collegiate career.

The Utes then completed a faulty beam rotation characterized by wobbles and balance checks to lock in their final meet score at 197.075.

With only senior Sadiqua Bynum’s floor routine left, UCLA needed at least a 9.925 to tie the meet. Anything more would give them the win.

The redshirt senior, who clinched the last home meet against then No. 3 Alabama, delivered another powerful routine with end-to-end tumbling runs.

The Pauley crowd cheered, chanting and demanding scores of 10.0.

“We fed off of the crowd and their Bruin energy.” Bynum said, “We made sure we stuck to three goals – to have great warm ups, to break 197 and to have great sticks.”

Bynum received a 9.950, pushing the Bruins into the lead with their highest floor score of the season­ – 49.600 – to secure the team’s first win over Utah in nearly two years with an overall score of 197.100.

Prior to the final rotations, the Utes had led throughout the entire meet, starting off with their strongest event – uneven bars.

Living up to its top-three ranking on bars, Utah stuck three landings, posting a score of 49.200. Junior Baely Rowe’s 9.900 and senior Kassandra Lopez’s 9.925 punctuated the first rotation for the Utes, who jumped out to a .175 lead.

The Bruins kicked off the Saturday meet on their weakest event – the vault, but five solid scores kept the first rotation close. Both Bynum and Preston led UCLA, with the freshman Preston scoring a career high 9.850.

“The team went out and took a lot of pressure off of me,” Preston said. ”We just go out there every routine and attack it.“

Heading into uneven bars, UCLA moved to close the gap between the two top-ten teams. Despite a slight hop on her landing, junior Hallie Mossett dazzled the crowd and tied her career high on bars with a 9.900, leading the Bruins to their second highest bars score of the season, a 49.175.

Utah continued hitting its vaults and landings, stretching its lead to 98.300-98.250 halfway through the meet.

But with their two strongest events remaining – balance beam and floor – the Bruins started to mount a comeback with strong scores from their senior leaders.

Senior Sophina DeJesus moonwalked her way to a 9.850 on beam, tying her season high score.

After judges bumped up Peng Peng Lee’s start value, the Bruin redshirt junior ended with a meet-leading 9.925 on beam and set her team up for the monumental comeback on floor.

UCLA returns to Pauley Pavilion next Saturday to face Oregon State in another Pac-12 dual meet.

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  • James Bitcoin

    I can see the endorsements coming. Sophina killed it. I went to her site and learned more about her. She’s an amazingly beautiful and talented black woman.