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UCLA gymnastics prepares for Washington meet after strong season opening

Freshman Ciena Alipio competes on beam. Alipio and No. 4 UCLA gymnastics will travel to Seattle for their first dual meet of the season Saturday. (Alex Driscoll/Daily Bruin staff)

Gymnastics


Washington
Saturday, 2 p.m.

Seattle
Pac-12 Networks

By Isabelle Friedman

Jan. 20, 2023 1:30 p.m.

The name of the Bruins’ game is confidence.

Following its 197.850 showing at the Wasatch Classic last weekend, No. 4 UCLA gymnastics is heading to Seattle to face Washington in the Bruins’ first dual meet of the season. UCLA’s second meet sent the squad up the rankings, where it now sits as the top-ranked Pac-12 squad in the country as it kicks off a string of conference dual meets.

Highlighting last week’s outing were top all-around performances from sophomore Jordan Chiles and freshman Selena Harris, who each pulled 39.725s to tie for first in the competition. Both gymnasts continued to toe perfection, with Harris’ bars routine earning a 10 from one judge and Chiles going 9.925 or higher on every event.

Coach Janelle McDonald said Harris, Chiles and junior Chae Campbell have become reliable all-arounders that have built confidence both internally and for the rest of the team.

“It’s amazing to have such confident competitors on our team and confident all-rounders,” McDonald said. “Just people that are willing to put in the work and be ready week after week for our team.”

Simultaneously, freshman Ciena Alipio is beginning to adjust to the team dynamics of collegiate gymnastics. Given her background in elite gymnastics, Alipio said she’s used to individual competition and training. But, now in the NCAA world, there’s the added motivation of performing well for the whole team.

At the Super 16 on Jan. 7, Alipio’s collegiate debut, the freshman was a late substitution into the beam lineup in place of redshirt senior Margzetta Frazier.

Despite the initial surprise, Alipio said the opportunity helped her gain self-assurance in the collegiate environment.

“I had one rotation to switch back into gear and be like, ‘OK, I have to go up and put something out for the team,’” Alipio said. “That, confidence-wise, definitely helped. I have obviously competed in big arenas on podium like that, but it hasn’t been more team-initiated, … so it was a different type of nerves.”

Last week’s meet also saw the return of senior Chloe Lashbrooke to the floor, where she performed an exhibition routine that garnered a 9.875. Lashbrooke tore her Achilles tendon in early 2021 and was unable to compete for the Bruins’ last two seasons, but Lashbrooke said she’s beyond excited to be back competing on her favorite event.

McDonald said the senior has been building her confidence back up, and her hard work is paying off as she regains her skills.

“She’s got a heart of gold, and she just puts a lot of love and energy into what she does in this team,” McDonald said. “To see her go out there last week on floor and have that hit moment, it was really exciting, and I can’t wait to see how the season unfolds for her.”

With two 197-plus meets under the Bruins’ belts, the blue and gold is starting out the 2023 season in a very different place than 2022. UCLA only eclipsed its most recent score once in the last two seasons during a home meet against California in March.

Lashbrooke said she’s usually too wrapped up in the momentum of the meet to notice the scores, but the performance on the scoreboard reflects the new energy felt among the Bruins.

“The energy is just so much better than we’ve had in the last couple of years, and the score really reflects this great energy, good vibes, connectedness that we had the entire meet,” Lashbrooke said.

From McDonald’s perspective, enjoying gymnastics seems to have brought out the best in her athletes.

She said confidence and fun go hand in hand when they’re competing.

“We really want to have consistent, confident and fun gymnastics,” McDonald said. “When you’re training well, and you’re feeling confident about where you’re at, we can just go to the meets, have a great time and lock into what you do every single day.”

McDonald and the Bruins will compete against the Huskies at 2 p.m. on Saturday to begin Pac-12 competition.

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Isabelle Friedman | Editor in chief
Friedman is the 2023-2024 editor in chief. She was previously the Copy chief and a slot editor and has also contributed to Sports on the women's golf, women's soccer and gymnastics beats. Friedman is a fourth-year public affairs student.
Friedman is the 2023-2024 editor in chief. She was previously the Copy chief and a slot editor and has also contributed to Sports on the women's golf, women's soccer and gymnastics beats. Friedman is a fourth-year public affairs student.
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