UCLA gymnastics ready to ‘level up’ for meet against Utah
The modified preseason is over for UCLA. After four meets and four wins, the Bruins have knocked off the rust that accumulated over months of quarantine. Their routines are fully loaded again. They’re not content with just competing.
The Bruins are coming for the crown now.
“We want to try to be the Pac-12 regular-season champion and vie for Pac-12 championship and vie for national championship,” coach Chris Waller said on a videoconference this week. “Those are daunting and scary goals. But the reality is one of the most fun things is to put that on the table and then live up to that the next day and the next day and the next day.”
Undefeated but still far from the high standards UCLA has grown accustomed to, the Bruins (4-0, 3-0 Pac-12) are calling the next phase of their season “Chapter Two.” It begins Friday at No. 3 Utah.
UCLA gymnast Nia Dennis is a viral sensation, with a floor routine that tells a deeply personal story: “I know who I am as a woman and a Black woman at that.”
This meet between Pac-12 rivals would usually be a top-five matchup. Last year, the Utes edged the Bruins by 0.05 points as both teams scored in the rarified 198-point range. The Utes (6-1, 3-0 Pac-12) haven’t missed a step as they’re ranked in the top 10 nationally in all events. UCLA is ranked 14th, falling four spots after a 195.625 against Washington on Sunday.
A busy 10-day, three-meet stretch forced the Bruins to be strategic with their lineups in that meet. They aren’t fretting the score, which was their lowest in five years. But when they returned to practice, they had renewed energy knowing they were ready to do better.
“We’ve put pressure on ourselves because we have decided that it’s time that we level up,” senior Kendal Poston said.
Poston, who scored a season-high 9.85 on beam against Washington, met with the rest of the senior class early this week. The group wanted to set the intention for the rest of the season. The seniors spread the message during a team meeting without the coaches before practice. They met at 6:45 a.m.
“We’ve been kind of going through like this phase of just, ‘Oh we’re grateful for another meet. We’re just gonna go out there and do what we can,’ ” freshman Chae Campbell said. “This time in this chapter, we are just focusing on more of the detail work.”
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UCLA’s shortened preseason was the culprit for the team’s slow start. In a typical year, the Bruins aim to open every season with scores that put them in the top three, Waller said. This year, their season-opening score slotted them at No. 11.
It was to be expected after the Bruins were one of the last college teams to start practice because of the pandemic. They didn’t return to the gym until Oct. 12 and were interrupted by long holiday breaks. Now with more than six weeks of consecutive practices, the Bruins are ready to get back to their old ways.
“We know that excellence is not a moment,” Waller said. “It’s a habit.”
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