UCLA gymnastics claims victory over Arizona State in 1st meet of season
Senior Nia Dennis helped halt an Arizona State comeback, scoring a meet-best 9.950 on her floor routine to lead UCLA to a season-opening victory in its first meet in 322 days. (Lauren Man/Assistant Photo editor)
Jan. 23, 2021 5:46 p.m.
For the seventh year in a row, the Bruins have claimed victory in their home opener.
UCLA gymnastics (1-0, 1-0 Pac-12) needed three near-perfect routines from its final three competitors on the floor to top Arizona State (1-2, 0-1) 196.150-195.950 in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday in its first meet in 322 days. The Bruins have won 12 consecutive meets against the Sun Devils, who recorded their last victory against UCLA 20 years ago.
Despite a new-look lineup and an empty arena, the Bruins scored more than 196 points in their season opener for the fourth consecutive season.
“I really couldn’t be any more proud of our team,” said coach Chris Waller. “The resilience, the pride that they took in each other and in their performances, I just couldn’t say enough about how proud I am of the character of the team.”
In the final routine of the meet, senior Nia Dennis debuted the much-anticipated follow up to last year’s viral floor routine, scoring a 9.950 to clinch the win for the Bruins.
“This routine definitely reflects everything that I am today as a woman,” Dennis said. “I wanted to have a dance party because that’s my personality.”
The Bruins held a 147.175-146.850 advantage heading into their final rotation on the floor, where they ranked first in the nation last season. However, the floor lineup struggled out of the gates, as UCLA opened with a 9.575 from sophomore Emma Andres followed by a 9.450 from fellow sophomore Paige Hogan, competing for the first time.
But as the Bruins’ lead was diminishing, the team received high-scoring performances from the back end of their floor rotation. Freshman Chae Campbell rebounded from her fall on bars earlier in the meet to score a 9.900 in her floor debut, while junior Margzetta Frazier — competing in the all-around for the first time since suffering an ankle injury last season — matched Campbell’s score.
“(Campbell’s) poise out there was incredible,” Waller said. “(There’s) a level of maturity there that we don’t expect and we don’t often see. But she’s been like that from day one.”
In a season full of uncertainty, the Bruins were forced to adapt once more after junior Norah Flatley tweaked her ankle while warming up and was held out of the meet for precautionary reasons. Flatley joins sophomore Chloe Lashbrooke – who sustained a torn Achilles tendon a week ago – on the Bruins’ injured list.
Despite the late lineup change, the Bruins posted a 49.200 on vault behind Dennis’ 9.900 and a 9.850 from Campbell – a three-time Texas State Champion on the event. The team finished last season fifth in the nation on vault, averaging a score of 49.280.
Junior Sara Taubman — competing for the Bruins for the first time in her three-year career — delivered, scoring a 9.825 on the bars. Taubman said that the team practices situations for last-second adjustments.
“I always go in prepared to compete and with the mindset that at any moment I could be in, but I didn’t know I’d be competing today,” Taubman said. “I really felt like the whole team was swinging with me. And when I landed, it was a good feeling for sure.”
With four of the six competitors making their debut on the bars, the Bruins still had other hurdles to clear. Following a 9.800 from senior Savannah Kooyman, freshman Frida Esparza scored an event-winning 9.900 in her UCLA debut.
“You often don’t really know what an athlete is like until they’re out on the competitive floor,” Waller said. “And, well, (Esparza’s) a gamer. So everything she did today, she stuck.”
The Bruins maintained a slim lead heading into their beam rotation, where the team struggled early last season. Nevertheless, a 9.900 from junior Samantha Sakti headlined a rotation in which the team scored a 49.000.
In a meet full of debuts for the Bruins, Dennis said it was hard to relish in the team’s usually flamboyant celebrations.
“Physical touch is my love language,” Dennis said. “I really want to hug everybody all the time. All day, every day. It was definitely hard today because I just was so proud of everybody and just wanted to hug everyone.”
UCLA is slated to compete against Arizona in Tucson next weekend.