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UCLA gymnastics rebounds from season opener with 2nd place tri-meet finish

Freshman Jordan Chiles dances on beam during the Meet the Bruins intrasquad on Dec. 17. Chiles posted a 9.875 on vault and a 9.925 on bars to help UCLA gymnastics post a 196.300 and earn a second-place finish in a tri-meet Sunday. (Marc-Anthony Rosas/Daily Bruin)


UC Davis194.700
No. 19 Oregon State197.000

By Nico Edgar

Jan. 23, 2022 5:32 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 24 at 12:42 p.m.

Following a performance coach Chris Waller described as “rock bottom,” the Bruins improved by more than a point in their second straight tri-meet.

UCLA gymnastics faced off against No. 19 Oregon State (2-0) and UC Davis in Corvallis on Sunday and posted a 196.300 en route to a second-place finish in the competition. After scoring a 194.850 in their season opener a week ago and scoring under 49 on three of four events, the Bruins cleared the 49 threshold on all but one event Sunday.

Waller said he was encouraged by the team’s resiliency after a tumultuous week.

“I care deeply about every student-athlete on this team and my belief in every gymnast on this team is unwavering,” Waller said. “I’m very excited about the step we took tonight – it wasn’t perfect, but we took a big step in the right direction.”

UCLA entered the meet without senior Margzetta Frazier because of an ankle injury, with the Bruins also losing sophomore Chae Campbell – slated to compete in the all-around – halfway through the competition because of an injury on vault.

With Frazier out, freshman Emma Malabuyo made her NCAA all-around debut, scoring a 39.100, while senior Norah Flatley competed on all four events for the second straight week. 

“It was very exciting,” Malabuyo said. “I was so happy to compete in all four events today. Everything happened so fast, so I don’t think I was prepared for all of it. But it was so fun.”

The Bruins bounced back with a 49.175 on bars to open the competition after a 48.300 in Minneapolis on Monday, their lowest score on the event since January 2015. Last season, UCLA did not score a 49.175 on bars until February.

Olympic silver medalist and freshman Jordan Chiles led the team on the event with a 9.925, with Flatley and sophomore Frida Esparza chipping in a pair of 9.875 scores. Sophomore Sara Ulias fell on the event for the second week in a row.

Waller said he was proud of the Bruins’ ability to rally after mistakes.

“One of the most difficult skills for a team to build is being able to come back after there is a glitch,” Waller said. “On bars, Sara Ulias had a fall, and then Jordan came right back and took a giant step forward from just a week ago. You felt the entire team get behind the next person and stay in the meet.”

Senior Norah Flatley performs her choreography on beam. Flatley competed in the all-around for the second straight week Sunday. (Marc-Anthony Rosas/Daily Bruin)

UCLA’s beam rotation also represented an improvement from its season opener, with the team registering a 49.275, its highest score on any event on the afternoon. A 9.900 by freshman Ana Padurariu in the leadoff spot paced the team, and four ensuing scores of 9.825 or higher helped the Bruins overcome an eventual fall by Flatley in the anchor spot. 

After failing to hit either of her routines last week, senior Kendal Poston scored a 9.875 on the apparatus with a stuck dismount, evoking tears from the super senior. Freshman Brooklyn Moors rebounded from a fall on floor to score a 9.850 in her collegiate beam debut, capping off a streak of three straight routines of 9.825 or better from UCLA freshmen.

Poston said she wanted to hit her beam routine for Campbell, whom she replaced.

“Honestly, I’ve been struggling with some confidence issues,” Poston said. “When I got put in for Chae, I really just did it for Chae. That allowed me to step out of the issues that I’ve been having with my confidence on beam and take on the role that Chae has when she competes. She competes with no fear.”

Vault, however, was the worst rotation of the afternoon for the Bruins, who scored a 48.850. While the score represented an improvement from Monday’s 48.500 on the event, it was still lower than any score the Bruins had on vault in the 2021 season. 

Chiles debuted a new vault after failing to hit her double-twisting Yurchenko last week, notching a team-high 9.875. But two 9.650 scores along with a 9.700 by Malabuyo extinguished the Bruins’ hopes of posting a score of 49.000 or higher on all four events. In addition to losing Campbell for the competition, UCLA failed to stick any of its landings on the apparatus. 

Poston said the Bruins need to regain their confidence and health on vault.

“We’ve been dealing with some injuries and minor tweaks,” Poston said. “We have a lot of people that can vault and we’re still trying to find our groove.”

The Bruins tallied an even 49.000 on floor, with Esparza making her collegiate debut on the event. After each of UCLA’s opening three gymnasts received a 9.900 from at least one of the judges, the team didn’t score higher than a 9.850 in the remaining three routines.

The team will return home after consecutive road meets to start the season, clashing with Arizona on Sunday in Pauley Pavilion.

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Nico Edgar | Sports staff
Edgar is currently a Sports staffer on the gymnastics beat. He was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Edgar is currently a Sports staffer on the gymnastics beat. He was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
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