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UCLA stumbles on balance beam, finishes third in Pac-12 gymnastics championships

UCLA's Pauline Tratz performs her floor exercise Feb. 10, 2021.
UCLA’s Pauline Tratz, pictured Feb. 10, scored a 9.95 in the floor exercise Saturday at the Pac-12 championships to tie for the meet title, but a disappointing beam rotation hurt the Bruins, who placed third.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

It started like a dream. The Pac-12 championships ended in a familiar nightmare for UCLA.

Despite scoring season bests on floor and vault, the Bruins finished third in the Pac-12 championships Saturday in West Valley City, Utah, after they were doomed by another disappointing beam rotation. In position for a much-needed season high, UCLA had to count a fall on beam for the second time in the last three meets and settled for a 196.725.

UCLA’s total was a whole point behind Utah, which knocked off the two-time defending conference champion with a 197.725. No. 5 California, which entered the meet as the top-ranked team in the conference, capitalized on the Bruins’ late mistakes and finished second with a total score of 197.365.

For columnist Dylan Hernández, it’s easy to see why UCLA gymnastics, and its push for social equality, is so popular with his 10-year-old daughter.

“Going to the last event, we were kind of tense, I think, because we wanted it so bad,” senior Pauline Tratz said. “We know we do have the potential, so I think that kind of just got to us. But from now on, it’s just improving because that won’t happen again.”

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Tratz and freshman Chae Campbell claimed shares of the Pac-12 individual floor title with matching 9.95 scores. Their performances helped the 13th-ranked Bruins start the meet with a season-high 49.525 on floor, which gave them a 0.2-point lead after the first rotation.

UCLA then claimed another individual Pac-12 crown on vault when junior Sekai Wright won the outright conference title with a 9.95. It shattered her previous career high of 9.875 and paced UCLA to its season-high 49.425 on the event.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Wright, a three-time Level 10 national vault champion. “I came into UCLA a vault champion and that was expected [of] me, and I just feel like I rose to the occasion at the right time.”

While the Bruins celebrated their impressive start, No. 6 Utah was doing even better. The Utes counted 10 straight scores of 9.9 or higher between the second and third rotations. The Bruins started to lose steam on bars, where one gymnast fell, but avoided the major deduction when junior Margzetta Frazier anchored the lineup with a Pac-12 title-tying 9.95.

Utah took a 0.375-point lead over UCLA into the final event.

Johnny Juzang scored 27 points in powering UCLA to a 73-62 victory over Brigham Young in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday night.

The Bruins needed only a 48.8 on beam, which is below their season-average on the event, to tie their season-best team score. Instead, they scored a season-worst 48.425 after counting junior Samantha Sakti’s 9.175 on the event after freshman Frida Esparza also fell.

UCLA has fallen on beam at least once in six of nine meets, but coach Chris Waller said he believed his team was ready for the challenge Saturday. It wasn’t the beam that shook the Bruins, he believed. Instead, they struggled to handle their earlier successes.

“It just looked like they got tight on the last event,” Waller said. “I think it’s going to be more about them figuring out and believing that we are this good.”


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