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UCLA gymnastics newcomers, returners gear up for season opener in Minneapolis

Senior Pauline Tratz will officially begin her fifth season with UCLA gymnastics Monday as the Bruins head to Minneapolis for a tri-meet with Minnesota and No. 9 Iowa to open their season. (Marc-Anthony Rosas/Daily Bruin)

By David Deng

Jan. 16, 2022 6:32 p.m.

After a brief hiatus due to COVID-19 protocols, the Bruins are set to begin their season.

Nine days after its originally scheduled start of the season, UCLA gymnastics will compete in Minneapolis against Minnesota and No. 9 Iowa (2-0) in a tri-meet Monday to open its season. Iowa was a late addition to the meet Friday after COVID-19 protocols forced the cancellation of its scheduled meet against Georgia.

All three teams were ranked in the preseason poll, with the Bruins, Golden Gophers and Hawkeyes taking home the No. 8, No. 9 and No. 18 spots, respectively, in the rankings.

The blue and gold boasts one of the nation’s top-ranked freshman recruiting classes, who will be kicking off their collegiate competition careers. The group includes 2020 Olympians Jordan Chiles and Brooklyn Moors, Olympic alternate Emma Malabuyo and world championships beam medalist Ana Padurariu.

“People are excited to watch our freshman class,” said coach Chris Waller. “We’ve got Olympians and world medalists who bring with them a pedigree and experience and accomplishments but also a ton of personality.”

The team will also see the return of many veterans, including senior Margzetta Frazier and sophomore Chae Campbell, both of whom qualified for the 2021 NCAA championships as individuals last year. Three-time All-Pac-12 honoree Norah Flatley also returns for her senior campaign after missing most of last season with an ankle injury.

Seniors Pauline Tratz and Kendal Poston are both back for a fifth year, opting to utilize the extra year of eligibility granted to all student-athletes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tratz said being among the most senior members of the team has emphasized her leadership role.

“I feel like I have a lot of experience, being here my fifth year, having won a national championship my freshman year and having experienced different teams, different years,” Tratz said. “Having such a big freshman class coming in and taking them under my wing and just being there for them has definitely been fun and fulfilling.”

Making the transition from elite gymnastics to the collegiate scene, Malabuyo credited the seniors on the team for shaping her learning experience in her first year.

“The seniors definitely helped me take one day at a time and just be present with everything you do because college can be so overwhelming,” Malabuyo said. “They really told me to lean on them for any advice and just take it one day at a time.”

This season-opening meet marks UCLA’s first trip to the Twin Cities since 2004 and its first matchup against Minnesota since 2011. It’s also the first time since 2015 that the Bruins have not started their season in Southern California.

Beyond the road trip to the Minnesota cold, however, Waller said the meet has a deeper meaning beyond the sport.

“The reality is, we’re competing in Minnesota on MLK Day. We’re going to the city of Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered on the street,” Waller said. “It’s brought up some emotional feelings about what it all means.”

Monday’s meet begins at 10 a.m. and will air on Big Ten Network.

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David Deng | Sports staff
Deng is currently a Sports staffer on the men's volleyball beat. He was previously a reporter on the gymnastics and women's volleyball beat and a contributor on the cross country and track & field beats.
Deng is currently a Sports staffer on the men's volleyball beat. He was previously a reporter on the gymnastics and women's volleyball beat and a contributor on the cross country and track & field beats.
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