UCLA gymnastics posts multiple season-high scores against Utah
No. 16 UCLA gymnastics jumped up six spots in the rankings after posting a 197.650 against No. 3 Utah on Friday. The Bruins set season-best scores on all four events in the meet. (Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff)
By Sam Settleman
Feb. 8, 2022 1:13 p.m.
This post was updated Feb. 10 at 12:20 a.m.
The NCAA gymnastics season officially began Jan. 5.
But according to coach Chris Waller, the Bruins’ season truly started Friday.
“Here we go,” Waller said. “UCLA gymnastics just got started this weekend.”
No. 16 UCLA gymnastics (1-1, 1-1 Pac-12) posted its best score in almost two years against No. 3 Utah on Friday in Pauley Pavilion, eclipsing its previous season high by more than a full point. In the process, the Bruins set their best marks of the season on all four events.
Waller added that it took a while for his team to get past the sting associated with its 194.850 score in its season-opening meet Jan. 17. Fewer than three weeks later, the Bruins tallied a 197.650 against the Red Rocks, becoming the eighth team in the nation to reach that mark this season.
Freshman Jordan Chiles said Friday’s performance was the product of overcoming the team’s tumultuous start to the season.
“What we showed out there was the heart of the sport and what UCLA is – we don’t just wear those four letters for no reason,” Chiles said. “We knew that we did something great and that all the struggles that we’ve gone through finally showed that we are very strong.”
UCLA didn’t appear to be on pace to set any season-high marks in the early stages of Friday’s meet, opening with five vaults that failed to reach the 9.900 threshold. But with sophomore Chae Campbell’s 9.900 in the anchor spot, the Bruins just cleared their previous season high on the event with a 49.275.
Even after freshman Emma Malabuyo fell in the second spot on beam, UCLA bounced back with four straight scores above 9.800 en route to its best beam score of the year. Waller said his team’s resiliency played a large role in its breakout meet.
“At other meets in the season, when there were hiccups here or there, they got derailed pretty quickly,” Waller said. “What we saw (Friday) was even in routines when there were slight hiccups, they came back again ferociously back to their performance and their zone, and they just kept coming back.”
One event in which the Bruins had few obstacles to overcome was on floor, where UCLA topped its previous season high by nearly half a point. With a perfect 10 from Chiles and three more scores above 9.900, the blue and gold posted a 49.600 on floor, a number that seven teams in the country have eclipsed this season.
While floor has been the Bruins’ best event for each of the last four years, the team entered the meet ranked 26th in the country on the event. Senior Norah Flatley said it was a welcome sight to see the floor party make its return to Pauley Pavilion.
“I got emotional after every routine,” Flatley said. “Seeing the team finally get to the point that we’ve been pushing so hard to be was just very emotional. How much emotion and hard work we’ve been putting into it, that just kind of surfaced and I was just so proud of it.”
For the blue and gold, Friday highlighted the difference between seeing and believing, according to Waller. The third-year head coach said seeing his team’s work in practice manifest in an actual competition will drive further improvement moving forward.
“It’s one thing to believe. It’s another thing to have an outcome that helps make all that real,” Waller said. “We’re going to go into this next week and be able to detail all these little things and go, ‘OK, here’s where we can tweak and improve.’ And now there’s more belief because we actually put it into play.”
After dropping from No. 8 in the preseason poll to No. 22 in the rankings heading into the meet against Utah, UCLA moved up six spots in Monday’s rankings after its season-best performance.
Flatley said Friday’s meet served as a reminder that the Bruins can still compete with anyone in the nation.
“We are one of the best in the country – and that’s no doubt,” Flatley said. “Yeah, we had a rocky start, but that doesn’t take away from that we can be the best team in the country.”