Overcoming adversity, Emma Andres and UCLA gymnastics rediscover beam confidence
Graduate student Emma Andres competes on beam at Meet the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion. (Brandon Morquecho/Assistant Photo editor)
Jan. 19, 2024 9:19 p.m.
Emma Andres was nervous ahead of her beam routine Saturday.
It was the graduate student’s first competitive appearance on the apparatus in front of what would later be announced as the largest audience for a regular-season NCAA meet in ESPN history.
But after trying to stay calm and visualize her routine, Andres flipped onto the beam and executed her routine to earn a 9.900.
As she stuck her tongue out with a smile at her stuck landing, Andres’ teammates erupted behind her, and the Bruin coaches’ eyes brimmed with tears.
“It made me want to cry,” Andres said. “Seeing them cheering in the background meant everything to me. I wouldn’t want that moment if I didn’t get to celebrate with them.”
Beam brought No. 11 UCLA gymnastics further cause for celebration at the Sprouts Farmers Market Collegiate Quad last week with a 0.800-point turnaround from its season-opening showing. The Bruins put up a 48.450 on beam at the Super 16 a week earlier – their lowest score on the event since 2021 – but attributed the stumble to first-meet jitters.
Coach Janelle McDonald said confidence is everything on beam, and the gymnasts’ mentality made all of the difference between the two competitions.
“Getting everybody to 1% gain on their confidence each week is really important,” McDonald said. “I felt like they really attacked it.”
McDonald added that the beam lineup is still being tweaked, but the team practiced well on the event Thursday.
Junior Emily Lee, who took the leadoff position in the beam lineup Saturday, said it’s easier for her to stay locked into her routine because there are no teammates before her to watch.
Lee added, however, that assistant coach Autumn Grable is a big support for the Bruins on beam. Grable coached beam on Saturday but was not with the team when sophomore Ciena Alipio and senior Chae Campbell fell on the apparatus at the Super 16.
“She’s just like the mom,” Lee said. “She just really comforts us, and just now she gives us the confidence we need.”
While UCLA was adjusting to the feel of competition at the Super 16, the Sprouts Collegiate Quad brought its own challenges, as senior Sara Ulias reinjured her knee during bars warmups.
Ulias was in a brace and had crutches at practice Thursday.
McDonald said she was proud of how the team reacted to their teammate’s setback.
“The way that the team responded to adversity was something that I feel like is going to take us really far this season,” McDonald said.
New year, new quad meet format
The Bruins will wrap up their stretch of quad meets in Denver before moving on to conference play, and McDonald said competing against multiple teams on the road is important for postseason preparation.
“It’s good for us to have this experience and get used to competing in the quad format,” McDonald said. “Just being able to make sure that when we’re out there, and there’s a lot going on, that we’re able to stay in our own bubble and really lock in and perform at our best.”
The Super 16 and Sprouts Collegiate Quad also debuted quad meet format, which the Bruins will see again in postseason.
With the previous format, all four teams in a quad meet would compete in their respective event at once, meaning television audience members couldn’t see every routine. Now, two events are staged together, and the groupings alternate, allowing viewers to watch every routine of the competition.
McDonald said she was initially concerned about the wait times on vault and bars, but the coaching staff began conversations during the preseason about how to handle the extra time.
“Some people want to be up on the podium, some people want other people with them dancing around or having a conversation, some want to stay on the floor longer,” McDonald said. “I felt like the TV was incredible. I think being able to show all the routines and really broadcast our sport in that way was really beneficial.”