Monday, February 24

UCLA gymnastics starts season strong with fresh faces, returning talents

No. 3 UCLA gymnastics took second place in the Collegiate Challenge powered by Under Armour, as multiple new gymnasts entered the lineup in replacement for injured teammates. (Kristie-Valerie Hoang/Daily Bruin senior staff)

After the Bruins’ season opener Saturday, coach Chris Waller repeated that one meet – however large – doesn’t determine a season.

“I mean, yeah, this was a really important meet, and we wanted to win this meet badly,” Waller said. “However, (the season is) a marathon, not a sprint, so ultimately we just need to make good decisions about when to push people and make sure everybody gets healthier and healthier, so we can keep getting better.”

No. 4 UCLA gymnastics started off its 2020 campaign with a second-place finish at the Collegiate Challenge powered by Under Armour. Despite beating No. 9 California and No. 22 Stanford, the Bruins’ score of 196.575 was their lowest since Jan. 6, 2018, which Waller partially attributed to the absence or limited usage of sophomore Norah Flatley, senior Madison Kocian and others because of injury.

But in the absence of some of the usual competitors, multiple new and less experienced members of UCLA’s squad were able to enter the lineup and make their case for why they should be everyday competitors.

Waller said having these “bubble athletes” get a chance to compete early in the season is nothing but good news for the Bruins, as the variety of options available will make the team even stronger once everyone is healthy.

“They kept getting each other’s backs,” Waller said. “We obviously started out rough, but once they got going, they were tight, they just did it, so it was a good start. This is a great thing. We’re going to keep getting better throughout the season.”

The new blood was most prominent on the balance beam, as after the first two gymnasts, seniors Grace Glenn and Felicia Hano, both fell off the beam, the rest of the team got the rotation back on track, minimizing the damage from the low scores.

Junior Kendal Poston hit her routine for a 9.65 in just the third outing of her career, and sophomore Margzetta Frazier collected a 9.775 for her first routine that counted toward the team score on the apparatus. The string of fresh faces was rounded out by sophomore transfer Samantha Sakti, who scored a team-high 9.95 in her Bruin debut.

“We’re all different in our own ways and I just loved all of them, they all did amazing,” Sakti said. “I just believed in my coaches and my teammates and the trust that we have and the honesty, and that’s what helped me believe in myself up there.”

Senior Kyla Ross, who scored a 9.95 to round out the beam rotation, said having new people perform so well under pressure bodes well for the future of the team.

“Our beam lineup is so new, so to see people perform after the falls in the beginning was really cool to see that comeback,” Ross said.

And with the season just getting started, Waller said he doesn’t want to pigeonhole the team into one standard lineup, instead continuing to experiment with different athletes on different events.

“What’s important is that everybody keeps getting opportunities and we keep getting better, so we’re peaking at the end of the season,” Waller said. “So really it’s just learning from this moving forward.”

Assistant Sports editor

Smith is currently an assistant Sports editor on the softball, gymnastics, women's volleyball, swim & dive and rowing beats. She was previously a reporter on the softball, women's volleyball, rowing and swim & dive beats.

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