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UCLA gymnastics to celebrate Black excellence in upcoming meet with Oregon State

Junior Sekai Wright scored a career-high 9.875 on floor last week, helping lead No.13 UCLA gymnastics to a season-high score against then-No. 3 Utah. (Daily Bruin file photo)

gymnastics


Oregon State
Saturday, 11 a.m.

Pauley Pavilion
Pac-12 Networks

By Sam Settleman

Feb. 26, 2021 2:42 p.m.

The Bruins’ next meet features an unprecedented theme.

On the last weekend of Black History Month, No. 13 UCLA gymnastics (4-1, 3-1 Pac-12) will take on Oregon State (2-3, 1-2) in the team’s first-ever Black Excellence Meet. The matchup also marks the team’s first action in Pauley Pavilion in more than two weeks.

Last season, the Bruins hosted a Pride Meet in support of the LGBTQ+ community. This season, UCLA’s themed meet will be dedicated to celebrating its Black athletes of the past and present.

For the inaugural Black Excellence Meet, the Bruins will be debuting a black-and-gold leotard. The right sleeve of the leotard is adorned with the raised fist symbol, representative of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Junior Margzetta Frazier said the new leotard was the most beautiful one she’d ever seen.

“Being in a black-and-gold (leotard) as a group of powerful women, you can’t not feel like you’re about to take over the world,” Frazier said.

Senior Nia Dennis, who has been celebrating Black excellence all season long with her floor routine, echoed Frazier’s sentiment.

“I feel a strong sense of unity, and I honestly feel unstoppable,” Dennis said.

Former Bruin JaNay Honest, a Black gymnast who hit 15-of-15 routines in UCLA’s 2018 championship season, will be on the call for the meet on Pac-12 Network.

For UCLA gymnastics – a team that has boasted Black gymnasts such as Kim Hamilton Anthony, the only woman to win three consecutive NCAA floor exercise championships – celebrating Black excellence also means celebrating the past.

“We want to bring attention to the historic Black athletes at UCLA that have made an impact on not just UCLA, but the world,” said coach Chris Waller. “We want to celebrate Black history during Black History Month. We also want to be very clear that we’ve got a long way to go in terms of racial injustice and, frankly, the dangers that Black people in our communities suffer.”

The current Bruin squad has four Black gymnasts on the team, three of whom compete in the all-around. Junior Sekai Wright, one of those four gymnasts, said the presence of Black women on the team amplifies the message the team is trying to spread.

“We’re just trying to showcase what Black excellence is and that Black lives do matter,” Wright said. “It’s just great that we do have Black women on our team that can really emphasize it and bring it to life.”

While UCLA gymnastics has never dedicated a meet to Black excellence, the Bruins have been celebrating Black culture all season long. Dennis’ floor routine – featuring music from Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, Missy Elliott and 2Pac – earned praise from the likes of Michelle Obama, while Frazier’s Janet Jackson-inspired routine landed the two-time All-American a phone call from the music mogul herself.

Dennis said the Black Excellence Meet provides an opportunity to influence the next generation of Black gymnasts.

“This is something of a bigger movement beyond February and Black History Month,” Dennis said. “We have Black gymnasts on the team, and we are going to continue to have Black gymnasts on the team. We want them to feel welcomed and supported in this environment – and to also inspire and uplift other young Black gymnasts as well.”

UCLA’s trio of all-around gymnasts – Frazier, Dennis and freshman Chae Campbell – helped lead the Bruins to a season-high score against then-No. 3 Utah a week ago. Campbell scored a career-high 9.950 on floor en route to a career-high-tying 39.425 in the all-around, while Frazier contributed a season-best 39.400 in the all-around.

But in spite of the season-best performance, the Bruins suffered their first loss of the season. Waller said the meet invigorated the team.

“We are definitely getting in a groove,” Waller said. “We won the day, but didn’t win the meet against Utah – and that inspired the team. On Monday, they were on fire, still running on adrenaline.”

In the matchup against their rival Utes, the Bruins scored better than 49.000 on all four events for the first time this season and added a season-best 49.425 on beam.

Dennis said even though the team’s performance against Utah built confidence, there is still room for improvement.

“I do 100% believe we have a lot more confidence,” Dennis said. “To see that huge jump from two weeks ago to last week at Utah, … and we still had mistakes. We know that wasn’t our best. That definitely is motivating us to continue to get better and keep getting one percent better every single day.”

The Bruins’ historic Black Excellence Meet begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

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Sam Settleman | Sports editor
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
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