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Culture of trust, confidence underlies UCLA gymnastics’ rising scores

Coach Janelle McDonald cheers on one of her student-athletes during a meet. In her first year as head coach of UCLA gymnastics, McDonald has led the Bruins back into the top five of the national rankings. (Kaiya Pomeroy-Tso/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Genevieve Trimbell

Feb. 28, 2023 2:37 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 28 at 8:34 p.m.

There are a multitude of factors that have led to the Bruins’ current top-five standing.

The influence of new head coach Janelle McDonald’s bars experience. Their return to the No. 1 floor team in the country. The addition of five-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week Selena Harris.

But if you ask the gymnasts and coaches, they’ll point to one thing that has been critical to their achievements thus far: trust.

“Culture and trust is at the forefront of everything we do,” McDonald said.

No. 5 UCLA gymnastics put up its second-highest score of the season Sunday, besting Arizona 197.900-195.325. The score raised the Bruins’ NQS to 197.655 and allowed them to maintain a top-five ranking for the second week in a row.

The blue and gold’s highest-scoring event of the meet was beam, on which it scored a 49.600 by virtue of two career-high 9.950s from sophomores Ana Padurariu and Jordan Chiles.

Chiles emphasized that the Bruins owe their improvements on the event to their confidence in volunteer assistant coach Autumn Grable’s work.

“We have an amazing beam coach, Autumn, who has helped us,” Chiles said. “Giving us pressure sets, and just always telling us, ‘Look, guys, you have the ability to put on a show, even on a 4-inch piece of wood.’”

The beam performances just narrowly eclipsed those on floor, on which UCLA scored a 49.575 to take sole ownership of the No. 1 ranking on the event for the first time since 2020.

Padurariu said despite not competing on the event, UCLA’s floor parties help her to feel camaraderie among the team and build their sense of trust between teammates.

“Whenever I’m watching floor, I don’t get nervous for everybody because I just have full confidence in everyone that goes up,” Padurariu said. “Being able to trust each other and lean on each other … comes from the team bond that we built.”

In Arizona, Padurariu tied her career-high 9.900 on bars in addition to her career high on beam. Bars has been a standout event for her this season, with the sophomore currently averaging a 9.868 after producing an average of 9.536 on the event in 2022. Padurariu has also upgraded her dismount this season, adding a full twist to her double back.

She said her coaches’ belief in her inspired her to make the change.

“I was able to gain more confidence this year because of the confidence from the coaches,” Padurariu said. “That’s why I upgraded my dismount because I knew that was something I wanted to do. And they helped me with every step of the way.”

Sunday’s upcoming meet against Stanford will be the ninth meet of the season for UCLA as the regular season winds down and up to a month of postseason competition begins. Chiles said relying on each other for their mental game will help keep the Bruins healthy and ready for the remainder of the long season.

“Where it comes into play is that communication,” Chiles said. “Making sure we are mentally OK because the physical part is always going to be there, but the mental part we have to make sure.”

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Genevieve Trimbell | Sports contributor
Trimbell is currently a contributor on the gymnastics and rowing beats.
Trimbell is currently a contributor on the gymnastics and rowing beats.
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