ST. LOUIS — The scores kept getting bigger and bigger for UCLA gymnastics.
In the hunt for the program’s seventh national championship, the Bruins came out slow on vault before building momentum and hitting their routines over the final three rotations.
“(Vault) is our weakest event, and in order to do really well we just had to be lights out on that event, and it just started us off with a lull,” said coach Valorie Kondos Field. “You can’t have that at the national championships. But I was really proud with how they responded over the final three events.”
But even that was not enough to overtake No. 1 Oklahoma, which had a record-setting night at Chaifetz Arena and started celebrating midway through the final rotation.
The Bruins would finish the 2017 Super Six with a 197.2625, edging out their conference rival Utah Utes for fourth, but it was the Oklahoma Sooners who owned the night.
They had the highest score in NCAA championship history with a 198.3875 in the team competition to clinch their second straight national title.
Fifteen of the Sooners’ 20 counted performances earned a 9.9 or higher as they went on to win their third title in program history and third in the last four years.
LSU, which scored a 198.2750 in the semifinal Friday night en route to winning individual titles on vault, uneven bars and floor, came in second, tying the program’s best finish at the NCAA Super Six, while Florida finished in third with a 197.7000.
Maggie Nichols finished with a 39.8625 in the all-around for Oklahoma after scoring a perfect 10 on balance beam, a day after falling on the same event to take herself out of contention for the individual all-around title.
Nichols’ uneven bars co-champion, freshman Kyla Ross, also had big routines in her first Super Six, starting on vault.
Ross stuck her landing and improved her semifinal score by .0375 to a 9.875, UCLA’s highest score of the rotation.
But the Bruins also had to count a sub-9.7 vault after sophomore Madison Preston and senior Angi Cipra scored a 9.6 and 9.6875, respectively.
On uneven bars, the team’s strongest event this season, UCLA had three 9.9-plus scores, coming from Ross, freshman Madison Kocian and redshirt senior Peng Peng Lee.
Lee anchored the team on bars, earning a 9.90, before scoring a perfect 10 on balance beam for the first time in her career.
“I wanted to electrify the beam,” Lee said in her last collegiate meet. “I wanted to put my heart and soul in it for my team, and I told them after ‘That routine was for you guys.’”
Ross, who also won the individual title on balance beam, could not replicate her 9.9625 in the semifinal after suffering a slight wobble mid-routine to score a 9.85.
Sophomore Katelyn Ohashi capped off the Bruins’ best rotation of the night with a 9.95 to bring the beam score up to a 49.4875.
UCLA hit all six routines on floor exercise, with Kocian and senior Hallie Mossett both earning 9.9125s to finish the night scoring above 49.3000 on uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.
The Bruins finished the gymnastics season with a fourth place in the team competition as well as individual titles for Ross on uneven bars and balance beam.
UCLA gymnasts also earned 12 All-American honors, led by Kocian with four: first team in all-around and floor and second team on vault and bars. Ross was first team on bars and beam as well as in the all-around after her sixth-place finish in the semifinals. Ohashi, Cipra and Mossett finished their seasons with first-team honors as well, while Lee and freshman Felicia Hano were second-team All-Americans on bars and vault respectively.
Cipra, Mossett, Lee and balance beam leadoff Mikaela Gerber will be gone because of graduation, leaving UCLA with most of its core lineup – including Kocian and Ross – primed for a championship run.
“I really learned to just trust in my coaches and teammates,” Kocian said of what she learned after the season. “We were pretty consistent the last two days of season, and we can only go up next year.”
But overthrowing Oklahoma would mean continuing to improve, especially on vault.
A slow start on the event hurt the Bruins in the Pac-12 championships, in which they finished third and were tight in the final three events as they tried to make up the points.
“We need to improve vault,” Kondos Field said. “We have great vaulters but just weren’t able to train them enough to compete. The fun part now of the postseason is watching them step up and figure how to get those 10.0 vaults ready to compete next year. ”