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UCLA gymnastics to send 3 gymnasts to compete individually in NCAA championships

Capping off her career with UCLA gymnastics, senior Nia Dennis will perform one final time representing the blue and gold on vault at the NCAA championship. (Lauren Man/Assistant Photo editor)

By Sam Settleman

April 15, 2021 5:14 p.m.

The Bruins will be sending just a fraction of their team to the NCAA championships for the first time in 15 years.

Despite failing to advance to nationals as a team for the first time since 2006, No. 13 UCLA gymnastics (6-2, 4-2 Pac-12) will send three gymnasts to Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday to vie for individual titles. Since 2015, the Bruins have claimed at least one individual title every year, including two event wins in four of the last five NCAA championships.

“The team was incredibly disappointed that we didn’t qualify as a team, so I didn’t know how they would rebound, but all three of them have been super upbeat and getting each other pumped up,” said coach Chris Waller. “The atmosphere has been great. They’ve been enjoying themselves honestly – working hard but also having a great time doing it.”

Freshman Chae Campbell – who competed in the all-around in 10 of 11 meets this season – will represent UCLA on all four events. Junior Margzetta Frazier will compete on bars, where she earned All-America honors for the third consecutive season. Senior Nia Dennis rounds out the Bruins’ individual competitors on vault following a near-perfect 9.925 on her Yurchenko full in the regional semifinals.

While Waller admitted there was no contingency plan for training should his team not qualify for nationals, he said the two weeks of practice leading up to the competition have been stress-free.

“Any time you’re going into the final meet, there’s an ease and a celebration to your preparation at that point,” Waller said. “You’re in the big dance. You already achieved this huge level of success.”

Campbell will have the opportunity to become the sixth UCLA gymnast to ever win an all-around title. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year is the lone freshman to qualify in the all-around.

Competing on all four events will be nothing new for Campbell, but performing without her teammates will be.

“I will say that I’ve definitely gotten used to competing with the team,” Campbell said. “It’s more fun and better to compete with the team and be with my friends, but I am kind of a person who adjusts really well to different situations. So, I really don’t focus much on changes. I just kind of go with the flow.”

Despite the absence of her usual synchronized dance crew on the sidelines, Campbell will get support from her temporary teammates. LSU freshman Haleigh Bryant – the only freshman in the country to outrank Campbell in the all-around – hinted on Twitter that the Tigers learned Campbell’s entire floor routine choreography in anticipation of Friday’s competition.

Campbell is not the only Bruin rotating with friends at nationals.

Rotating with Alabama, Dennis will have the opportunity to reunite with childhood friend and current Crimson Tide gymnast Makarri Doggette. Dennis and Doggette both grew up in Ohio, where they were club gymnastics teammates at Buckeye Gymnastics.

“I’m honestly so thrilled,” Dennis said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish out my college career than to be finishing with my best friend that I literally grew up with. We have matching tattoos and everything, like that’s my best friend.”

Friday’s competition will likely be the last in a storied UCLA career for Dennis, whose floor routine has gone viral in two consecutive years. The senior’s final routine will be on vault, where she has earned six consecutive 9.900-plus scores. Instead of upgrading her vault to one of her former elite gymnastics skills, Dennis said she will likely stick with her Yurchenko full, which has a 9.950 start value.

Like Dennis, Frazier said she is sticking to what she knows best. In 34 career bar routines, Frazier owns a 9.897 average on the apparatus. 2020 graduate Madison Kocian – a 2016 Olympic silver medalist on bars – averaged a 9.863 in 39 career bar routines.

After scoring a 9.950 in five of the last six meets on bars, Frazier said Friday’s routine will be about staying mentally sharp and trusting herself.

“I do personally believe that I have a shot of winning a national title,” Frazier said. “I’m at the point now with bars where I don’t even warm up. I just do a bar routine and anything else I need to work on, I just work on it for fun at this point.”

But Frazier hopes the audience takes note of more than just the Bruins’ gymnastics. As one of the two UCLA representatives for Gymnasts for Peace, Action and Change (G-PAC), Frazier said she is looking forward to sharing the national spotlight with two of her Black teammates.

“I’m very excited that we do have three Black women going to nationals,” Frazier said. “I think that that’s huge, especially with the things that we’ve been fighting for this year and the things that we’ve been spreading awareness on and educating people about. And I really hope that people can visually see that and take it in and see it as the norm.”

Campbell, Frazier and Dennis will take the competition floor during the second semifinal at 3 p.m. on Friday.

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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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