UCLA gymnastics posts its best season-opening score in 18 years at Super 16
Freshman Selena Harris smiles after sticking a pass on floor. Harris notched a 39.500 in the all-around in her collegiate debut as No. 10 UCLA gymnastics posted a 197.275 at the Super 16 in Las Vegas. (Alex Driscoll/Daily Bruin staff)
Jan. 7, 2023 9:24 p.m.
This post was updated Jan. 11 at 12:29 a.m.
LAS VEGAS — Selena Harris stuck her full-in on floor and couldn’t contain her smile.
The freshman nailed her final two passes as well to cap off her first-ever collegiate routine in style. The scoreboard flashed a 9.900 – and it wouldn’t be her last of the night, either.
Harris would go on to score two more 9.900s to help lead No. 10 UCLA gymnastics to its highest season-opening score since 2005, just a couple months after the freshman’s first birthday. The blue and gold’s 197.275 earned it a fourth-place finish in a field consisting of No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 Michigan and No. 5 Auburn at the Super 16 in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Harris – a Las Vegas native – found herself surrounded by family, friends and former club teammates as she made her collegiate debut, posting a 39.500 in the all-around that left her in a tie for fifth.
“I feel so overwhelmed. I cried, and I lost my voice in the process,” Harris said. “But I’m just so happy that I was surrounded with everybody who loves me and has been a part of my journey to get here.”
The Bruins began the meet on floor, where Harris was due up third in the rotation. Just moments into the No. 1 recruit’s routine, the stuck first pass elicited a shout and a smile from the newcomer. Her 9.900 marked UCLA’s second straight of the rotation after sophomore Emma Malabuyo matched that score in the second spot.
“I had been struggling with that (first pass) in the gym, so to hit it at the meet for my team, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be a great routine,’” Harris said.
Not a newcomer to the big stage, sophomore Jordan Chiles went 9.875 to follow Harris after overpowering her first pass double layout, and junior Chae Campbell rounded out the rotation with a 9.950 to cap off a 49.400 performance on floor.
In UCLA’s 2022 season opener, the Bruins posted a 49.125 on floor – at that point a highlight of a meet in which they went on to post their worst score in seven years. But UCLA hit at least 49 on all four events Saturday to finish 2.425 points higher than it did to kick off its season a year ago.
“When you build culture and you do things the right way, the little things the right way, then you come out here and you feel connected and you feel excited to compete for one another because you’re all working for the same goal,” said coach Janelle McDonald. “I think they showed that today, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Entering the second rotation just 0.025 out of first place behind defending national champion Oklahoma, UCLA kicked off vault with a 9.800 from redshirt senior Margzetta Frazier. But three straight 9.900-plus vaults from Campbell, Harris and Chiles finished out the rotation to solidify a 49.375 on an event that the Bruins averaged just a 49.188 on a season ago.
At the halfway point, UCLA trailed only behind Oklahoma, with just a 0.100 difference to make up on its final two events.
McDonald said UCLA’s competitors Saturday – and the postseason-esque nature of the meet – prepared her team for not just week two, but further into the season.
“To be competing against some of the top teams in the country tonight and be out here with them, it just makes us more excited for what’s to come in the postseason,” McDonald said.
Harris didn’t slow down by the third rotation, posting her third straight 9.900 to begin her career. Chiles and Frazier followed her lead to close out the rotation, with the former earning a perfect 10 from one judge despite a small step on her dismount to receive a 9.975.
Frazier’s return to bars comes nearly a year after she broke her foot on the same event in UCLA’s 2022 season opener. The three-time All-American on bars tallied a 9.950 as the Bruins rounded out their best rotation of the evening.
Malabuyo said the difference from a year ago felt significant.
“I’m just really excited about this team,” Malabuyo said. “Our preparation, we’ve been working so hard in the gym. And it really paid off today.”
UCLA had sat in second place through each of the first three rotations, but a 49.000 on beam slid the Bruins down to fourth place. Nevertheless, each of UCLA’s three all-arounders in the meet finished within the top seven on the individual leaderboard.
Chiles finished in second in the all-around behind her first-place finish on bars. The Olympic silver medalist trailed only her former Team USA teammate and Olympic all-around gold medalist Suni Lee of Auburn.
Only a 9.800 on beam could slow Harris down from catching Lee and Chiles, as McDonald said the freshman wasn’t fazed in the slightest by the environment in her first collegiate meet.
“She is a special human being when she competes,” McDonald said. “She loves a challenge and she loves to be in front of a crowd. … I think it was a really special moment and just showed what a great career she is going to have in the NCAA.”