Moments before the UCLA gymnastic team’s season officially began Friday night, a black curtain rose in Pauley Pavilion, revealing the 2018 national championship banner.
Seniors from that season counted down the unveiling, among them Christine Peng-Peng Lee, whose perfect 10s on the uneven bars and beam secured the championship for UCLA.
But once the spotlight went off the white banner, the rest of the celebration was for the future of this season, as No. 1 UCLA defeated No. 11 Nebraska 197.250-195.700.
“It was pretty comforting …” senior Katelyn Ohashi said of the team’s strong showing. “I know that we have so much more improvement left, so that’s really cool.”
The Bruins bested the Cornhuskers in every rotation, even as one UCLA gymnast fell in every rotation except beam.
Kyla Ross won the all-around and executed a near-flawless vault, earning a 9.975 (and a 10 from one of the judges). She earned another perfect 10 from a judge for her floor routine, where she was named co-champion alongside junior Gracie Kramer and Ohashi, each earning a 9.95.
Ohashi, who also won beam with a score of 9.900, debuted her floor routine. Her routine last season, set to Michael Jackson music, won the national individual title and went viral, earning more than 90 million views. Her new routine, set to a slew of old hits, was just as dazzling.
“I’ve never seen her perform like that,” coach Valorie Kondos Field said. “Ever, in your entire life. I’ve never seen her facial, her performance quality, be that professional as I saw tonight.”
The meet was a series of flawless landings, of fans flashing 10s with their hands. But Kondos Field focused on the errors, including falls on vault and beam and missed middle passes on floor.
The problem was not a lack of talent, or endurance or practice, but an abundance of readiness, Kondos Field said. The team had hungered to compete for weeks, and in their eagerness, the Bruins lost control of their energy. The errors were only significant because this team is striving for another national championship.
“A 197.25 is great, normally,” Kondos Field said. “For this team, it was good.”
As she sat at the podium postgame, Kondos Field raised her right hand in the air, high above the heads of Ohashi and Ross, who were sitting beside her.
“Your standard is just up here,” Kondos Field said, turning to them. “And they expect that from themselves and they expect that from each other. And it’s really a blessing to coach teams like that.”