WESTWOOD —Gymnastics is not known as a sport where one team clearly dominates the other. The gymnasts never directly face their opponents; they are focused completely on their own routine and for the most part are not even worried about the other teams they are facing. When the meet comes to an end, scores are counted up and whoever has the better average after four rotations, wins.
Well someone needs to tell the UCLA Gymnast team that’s how gymnastic meets are supposed to go because on April 10 the Bruins blew the lid off Pauley Pavilion.
This year the team was fortunate enough to host the NCAA Regionals, the final step before making it to the NCAA Championship, and had to face five other teams from different parts of the United States. UCLA was the highest ranked team in their regional, but facing the likes of Arkansas, BYU, Arizona State, Arizona and Iowa State wasn’t going to be a simple walk in the park. From their very first rotation the Bruins erased any doubt in any of the minds of the thousands of screaming UCLA fans that they were going to come out on top. The team fed off the energy of the home crowd and took the early lead with an amazing performance in the floor exercise. All night the judges had been pretty strict with their scores on floor, but all that changed when the Bruins took the stage. Tauny Frattone started everything off with a solid score of 9.800 and from there the rest of the team took off. The team finished the rotation with four straight scores of 9.900, including a 9.925 posted by Brittani McCullough, and that was the best score of the night.
On vault the Bruins continued their relentless assault of capturing the Los Angeles Regional title. This time is was freshman Monique De La Torre who got things started with a 9.85 and once again the rest of the team continued to push the envelope a little further. Four out of the next five scores were 9.900 or better, and senior Anna Li, who was competing in her final meet in Pauley Pavilion as a UCLA athlete, notched the best score of the day on vault with 9.950.
After vault the Bruins had to sit out a rotation because of the number of teams involved in the competition, but the brief moment of rest did nothing to quench the fire burning in the UCLA Gymnastic Team. When they moved on to the uneven bars the Bruins immediately got right back to work. De La Torre played the role of catalyst again, leading off with another score of 9.850, and the rest of the team made sure they followed suit. Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs stuck her landing to earn a 9.925 and Vanessa Zamarripa followed her up with a score of 9.975. Those two scores were already enough to send the crowd into a frenzy, but it was nothing compared to what happened when senior Anna Li finished her routine on the uneven bars. Before the NCAA Regionals and the Pac-10 Championships, Li wasn’t able to compete in the last regular season home meet due to an ankle injury. Given the opportunity to perform at home again, Li wanted to make sure she left her mark, and she didn’t disappoint. Even though there was no reward for what she did, beyond having the best score for the uneven bars, Li’s perfect 10 for her routine was the best performance of the entire competition. Not one UCLA fan was sitting down after she stuck her landing. With her score it was very clear to everyone in the building that the other teams were now just fighting for second place because no one was going to take down the Bruins in their own turf. Their final rotation on beam was merely a formality. Usually an area of worry for the Bruins, the team was poised and finished all their routines without any major hiccups to seal their victory.
Vanessa Zamparripa was the All-Around winner and Anna Li finished with a career best score of 39.650 to take second. The victory earned the team the right to compete for the school’s sixth NCAA Championship that has escaped them for the past few years. Their score of 197.875 also gave them the number one seed heading into the NCAA Championships this Thursday. The Bruins will be competing in the afternoon session on Thursday, April 22, at 11 a.m. against Utah, LSU, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Oregon State. If the Bruins finish amongst the top three teams in their session they will advance to the Super Six, which is the final round to determine the National Champion.
There is still a long road ahead for the Bruins, but if their performance in Nationals is anything like April 10, they should have no problem evening out those trophies in their trophy case.