As the UCLA gymnastics team practiced Thursday, a little more than 24 hours before the start of the NCAA championships, the Bruins behaved as they have all season.
They danced between exercises and to each other’s floor routines, laughed while sporting shiny blue sunglasses and appeared relaxed, despite the grander stage.
“Their whole approach is perfect for postseason,” said Kathy Johnson Clarke, 1984 Olympic gold medalist, who will be working the championships as an ESPN commentator.
UCLA, ranked second in the nation behind Oklahoma, will need to remain unfazed as it attempts to defend its national title starting Friday at the Fort Worth Convention Center. The Bruins face Louisiana State, Utah and Michigan in one semifinal. Oklahoma, Georgia, Denver and Oregon State are in the other. The top two teams from each bracket advance to Saturday’s national championship meet.
Oklahoma, Georgia and UCLA are the only teams with a qualifying score above 198.0. UCLA edged Oklahoma in last year’s national championship by a margin of .0375, but the Sooners defeated the Bruins in a dual meet earlier this season.
“The biggest thing is having all of us hit what we’re capable of,” said Kyla Ross, a UCLA junior. “And I feel like then we’re gonna have another great meet.”
The gymnasts compete for individual titles Friday, with the three top contenders for the all-around title facing off in the same semifinal. Ross, Utah’s MyKayla Skinner and Louisiana State’s Sarah Finnegan are the nation’s top ranked all-around gymnasts.
Ross, the No. 1 all-around gymnast, achieved a “Gym Slam” — scoring a perfect 10 on each apparatus — twice this season.
Ross said the Bruins plan to approach the championships as they did the Pac-12 Conference championships, where the team posted a season-high score of 198.4.
The key: Be calm but focused.
“We weren’t trying harder or anything,” Ross said. “We just went in and were very confident in all our routines. And that’s why we were able to get such a good team score. ’Cause we’re just having fun, but also dialing in.”