Gymnastics is not a sport structured around halves, but No. 3 UCLA looked like two different teams in the first two rotations and second two rotations.
The team in the first half of Saturday’s Pac-12 women’s gymnastics championship looked tense and uptight. As such, the Bruins (9-2, 5-1 Pac-12) were mistake-prone and finished tied for third place with a score of 197.1.
“We were home for four weeks straight. We were not used to traveling and being in a different arena and different setting,” said freshman Kyla Ross. “I think that got in the mindset of a lot of people and that made them overthink and try to go too hard or maybe hold back.”
Freshman Gracie Kramer, who landed her 10.0 start value vault in warmups, made the first big error. She under-rotated her vault and fell.
That prevented the Bruins from nabbing a high vault score and keeping up to speed with the other three teams and their solid first rotations.
UCLA, under normal circumstances, would have made up for the 49.15 vault score on its strongest event – the uneven bars.
The first three gymnasts on the rotation, however, were shaky. Junior Sonya Meraz almost struck the bar on her dismount and barely got a foot on the landing pad. Then, junior JaNay Honest ended a long streak of hit bar routines by falling. Sophomore Stella Savvidou nearly fell as well.
“I was really disappointed,” said coach Valorie Kondos Field. “It was the classic scenario of one thing going wrong in a competition and everyone else trying to make up for the points lost. I wanted to throw cold water in their faces to get them to snap out of it.”
As a result, UCLA scored a 48.95, leaving the team in fourth place at the halfway point.
“After the first two rotations, we didn’t have anything to lose,” Ross said. “Everyone re-collected themselves and went all out, and I think we were able to get back on track.”
The Bruins’ star freshmen, Ross and Madison Kocian, kickstarted the team’s momentum shift after senior Hallie Mossett fell off the balance beam.
Kocian was clean and scored a 9.9.
Ross was better, almost flawless, and the judges gave her a perfect 10 – her second of the season in the event and the first 10 on balance beam in Pac-12 women’s gymnastics championship history.
“It was really exciting. Getting a 10 in the postseason is pretty hard,” Ross said. “I know we were struggling a little bit getting started and I think that helped bring our momentum back.”
The result was a season-high 49.575 on balance beam.
On the floor exercise, redshirt freshman Macy Toronjo fell during her routine, but the final three performers scored 9.9 or higher.
The team now has to prepare for the NCAA regional championships in April.
Not allowing their mental approach to be thrown off by a foreign environment or the big occasion is a paramount concern.
“We need to work on the mental game and not putting ourselves under pressure,” said redshirt senior Peng-Peng Lee. “It’s difficult in the postseason because you’re not going as quickly. You’re waiting around a lot.”