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UCLA gymnastics stresses value of team synergy during season’s 1st road trip

Sophomore Emma Malabuyo competes on beam. Malabuyo and No. 6 UCLA gymnastics set their highest season-opening score in 18 years Saturday. (Alex Driscoll/Daily Bruin staff)

By Benjamin Royer

Jan. 12, 2023 4:19 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 13 at 12:47 a.m.

The Bruins’ focus remained on the meet itself in Las Vegas, but team connection was a major theme during opening weekend.

Not competing Friday allowed No. 6 UCLA gymnastics extra time to accumulate memories before competing at the Super 16 on Saturday night. Before recording a 197.275 – the Bruins’ highest season-opening score in 18 years – the team took part in team-building activities and games on its trip to Nevada.

“We’ve done a lot of games,” said freshman Selena Harris. “We’re all super competitive. But otherwise, I think we love to just be around each other. I feel like we’ve gotten a lot closer, especially after traveling together.”

Harris, who scored three 9.900s in her debut in Las Vegas, is one of four freshmen on the Bruins’ roster. Freshmen Ciena Alipio, Maddie Anyimi, Clara Wren and Harris have begun their collegiate careers under coach Janelle McDonald.

McDonald has been clear about her goals since coming to Westwood, prioritizing synergy inside and outside of the gym.

“We’ve been really intentional in our preseason to connect with one another,” McDonald said. “(To) get to know each other better, and to really have a team that’s all in (and) moving toward a common goal together. I really saw that at the competition, and that’s something that I’m really proud of.”

Sophomore Emma Malabuyo – who hosted a Friendsgiving for the roster and coaching staff in the preseason – said she recognizes the importance of the relationships between gymnasts.

Malabuyo added that the road trip over the weekend allowed the team to gel further.

“Honestly, I think it bonded us even more just because we have so many days being here and traveling,” Malabuyo said. “At least we don’t have any school to do, so we can just hang out together and build that connection.”

With UCLA on the road again for its next two meets, the Bruins will possess many more opportunities to fuse their program together before their home opener at the end of January.

Preparation and execution

McDonald’s experience as an uneven bars coach came to the forefront Saturday with the Bruins posting a 49.500 on the event.

That result stood 1.200 points higher than UCLA’s debut on bars last season.

McDonald said she enjoys communicating with her gymnasts before they begin competing.

“Every athlete is a little bit different,” McDonald said. “Some (gymnasts) like one or two little reminders before they go (on bars). Some like you to tell them a joke, or be silly with them or dance it out with them.”

Beam proved to be the make-or-break event for the Bruins at the Super 16. After holding steady in second place through three rotations, UCLA ultimately fell to fourth following a 49.000 on beam.

Malabuyo, who received a perfect 10 on beam in 2022, said she was not paying attention to the standings, but rather to her teammates and the task at hand during the beam rotation Saturday.

The second-team All-Pac-12 honoree on the event scored a 9.900 – the third-best score on beam during session four – closing the meet on an individual high note.

“I try not to pay too much attention, but instead surround myself with my teammates,” Malabuyo said. “I really like to dance around. So, I think that kind of kept me loose and in the zone. But just relying on my teammates and them having my back really helped.”

Malabuyo added that since COVID-19 protocols stunted their start to the 2022 campaign, a fluid beginning to the 2023 season has allowed the Bruins to become more connected.

McDonald said she hopes to take details from the Super 16 and implement them into the meets ahead.

“This weekend was really trying to learn what each person needs,” McDonald said. “And to help them keep their mind on track with what their job is to do in that moment and fire them up to be successful.”

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Benjamin Royer | Alumnus
Royer was the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was also a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats in 2022-2023. He studied communication and graduated in 2024.
Royer was the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was also a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats in 2022-2023. He studied communication and graduated in 2024.
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