Gymnastics’ new faces look to continue contributing in meet against Arizona
Freshman Frida Esparza was one of four new faces on the uneven bars last week versus Arizona State, scoring a team-high 9.900. (Lauren Man/Assistant Photo editor)
Sunday, 12 p.m.
ARIZONA LIVE STREAM
By Coral Smith
Jan. 30, 2021 11:29 a.m.
Though last week marked the start of the season, the Bruins are still in uncharted territory.
No. 11 UCLA gymnastics (1-0, 1-0 Pac-12) will face No. 15 Arizona (0-1, 0-1) on Sunday for its road opener, looking to build on last week’s season-opening win over Arizona State. While many veterans contributed to the victory, the meet also marked the debuts of some of the Bruins’ gymnasts.
“That was my favorite part of the meet, the freshmen and some of the people who hadn’t broken into the lineup yet getting to compete,” said senior Kendal Poston. “It took me quite a while to break into lineups, and honestly there’s nothing like that moment of finally having your hard work pay off.”
And it’s not just UCLA that revealed a fresh new lineup in its season opener. In their meet last weekend, six Wildcats made their debuts, collecting a combined five scores of at least 9.800, including a 9.900 on balance beam from freshman Jessica Castles.
With both teams expected to call upon a number of freshmen again Sunday, coach Chris Waller said it provides a great opportunity for young talent to enjoy themselves while gaining experience.
“I think it just brings a lot of fun and excitement to the floor,” Waller said.
New gymnasts were most utilized in the Bruins’ uneven bars rotation, as four out of the six UCLA gymnasts made their first appearance on the apparatus. Both senior Pauline Tratz and junior Sara Taubman hit their routines in their debuts on bars, with Taubman receiving a 9.900 from one judge for her routine.
And with junior Norah Flatley – a consistent competitor on bars last season – expected to be out for three to six weeks after spraining her ankle during warmups, Waller said gymnasts like Taubman will likely continue to contribute in the rotation.
“That was a breakthrough moment for (Taubman) on a personal level,” Waller said. “I’ve seen a difference in her in practice since then – she’s definitely more confident, she carries herself a little bit taller, and so I expect she’s going to be with us on bars for the season.”
Freshman Frida Esparza was another new face on uneven bars, scoring a team-high 9.900. Esparza also competed on balance beam, scoring a 9.800 as part of the Bruins’ 49.000 effort on the event, their second-highest-scoring rotation of the meet.
“It feels very different because I’m not used to scoring like that,” Esparza said. “Obviously we haven’t been training as much as we’d like to, but it gave me a bit more confidence in my abilities.”
In addition to adjusting to changes in the gym, UCLA will also have to adapt to a new mode of travel for its road meets. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the Bruins to no longer fly to most of their away meets, and this weekend the team will drive the eight hours to Tucson on a bus.
Waller said despite the inconvenience of traveling by bus, the team will be taking advantage of the time to focus on their team connection.
“There’s nothing like getting on the road to get to know the freshmen, and for the freshmen to get to know everybody else,” Waller said. “There will be a lot of bonding on the road, we may or may not have some outdoor activities in the desert, it’s hard to say.”