UCLA gymnastics faced an early season hurdle and claimed a victory behind standout performances from its younger gymnasts.
The usual suspects, such as sophomore Kyla Ross and redshirt senior Peng-Peng Lee, also performed well for the No. 4 Bruins (2-0), but much of the credit also goes to sophomores taking on a bigger role compared to last year and the freshmen stepping into the lineup.
“It’s nice to see the newbies, including (redshirt freshman) Grace Glenn – who didn’t compete last year – it’s nice to see them come out and compete with the same poise as the veterans,” said coach Valorie Kondos Field.
Glenn has stepped into the beam lineup and completed two routines without falling. If she can maintain such consistency, she will be a worthy successor to Mikaela Gerber and Hallie Mossett, who graduated last year.
Two other sophomores who have stepped up in the early season are Gracie Kramer and Felicia Hano.
Hano, who was injured for much of last season, has impressed on the vault and floor exercises. She scored a 9.90 on both events in Reno, Nevada.
“Someone who’s really come into their own is Felicia Hano,” Kondos Field said.
Kramer’s season, however, began as the last one ended – on a sour note. Going for a 10.00 start value vault against Ohio State, she did not get enough air and couldn’t prevent herself from sitting it down.
Kramer got her shot at redemption on the floor exercise, where she was hitting leadoff. She nailed her first tumbling pass and completed the routine almost without a hitch. The judges rewarded her with a 9.90.
The momentum from the successful routine continued into Sunday’s meet, where she led off on floor with another 9.90. She followed up with a 9.825 on an exhibition vault, which didn’t factor into the team score on that apparatus.
“I’ve grown so much since (last season). I think I’ve realized my place on the team,” Kramer said. “Just because my freshman year didn’t go as planned, I have control over my life and I can take the reins and hope that it all turns out. So far, it’s turned out pretty well.”
Ross, despite already owning two individual NCAA titles, is also a sophomore who has been making the most of starting the season healthy and in-form. Her consistently clean routines resulted in her claiming the team’s top all-around score in both meets.
The freshmen have also played an important role in the Bruins’ two victories.
Pauline Tratz’s 9.85-plus scores on every event she’s competed in, including a standout 9.90 floor routine in Reno, have made her a solid addition to the lineup.
Nia Dennis, in sophomore Madison Kocian’s absence, has been competing in all four events and has been a consistent source of points.
“The freshmen have integrated themselves so well,” Lee said. “They love competition. They love to be challenged.”