UCLA gymnastics misses advancing to NCAA championships by 0.025 points

UCLA's Emma Malabuyo competes on the balance beam during a meet against Oregon State in January.
UCLA’s Emma Malabuyo competes on the balance beam during a meet against Oregon State in January. Malabuyo’s performance on the beam nearly secured UCLA a spot in nationals before Missouri jumped ahead of the Bruins on the scoreboard seconds later.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

Chris Waller had seen this story before.

A UCLA gymnast needed a near-perfect routine on beam to push the Bruins over the top in a crucial postseason moment. In 2018, it was a 10 from Peng-Peng Lee that clinched UCLA a national championship.

Four years later at an NCAA regional final in Raleigh, N.C., it could have been Emma Malabuyo.


UCLA came 0.025 points away from qualifying for the NCAA championships as a team, finishing third in an NCAA regional final Saturday. No. 3 Michigan won with a 197.8 while the Bruins squandered a late lead over No. 11 Missouri, which locked up the second qualifying position with a 197.425 compared with UCLA’s 197.4.

Coming off a challenging season, the UCLA gymnastics team showcases its experience and talent during the NCAA regional semifinals.

March 31, 2022

Waller, the third-year head coach who had flashbacks of Lee’s performance Saturday, thought Malabuyo’s routine would be enough after the freshman stuck her dismount. She scored a team-high 9.975. But when Amari Celestine’s floor score of 9.925 flashed on the scoreboard seconds later, the Bruins could only silently stare at the standings that showed them third.

“Extremely proud of the team,” Waller said, “and also gut-wrenching as well.”

The path to nationals has gotten harder after the field shrunk from 12 to eight in 2019. UCLA, which missed the NCAA championship last year for the first time since 2006, has been shut out of the national meet in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.

Jordan Chiles and Norah Flatley qualified to compete at nationals as individuals based on scores from Thursday’s semifinal. Flatley won the all-around title Thursday but did not compete in all four events Saturday. Flatley had completed a team-high 41 routines entering Saturday’s regional final, and citing her mental health, the former U.S. national team member asked only to compete on bars and vault Saturday.

The UCLA women’s basketball team faced long road trips their school funded to compete in the WNIT, while the NCAA owns and funds the men’s NIT travel.

April 2, 2022

“I’ve been pushing through a lot of personal struggles, and it’s made training and competing really hard,” Flatley said through teams. “Today was just one of those days where mentally I was not OK.”

Even without Flatley, whom Waller called the team’s “MVP,” the Bruins took a three-tenths lead after opening on floor. Fueled by the energy of its season-best road performance Thursday, UCLA was tied with Michigan for first place entering the final event. The leaders had a 0.425-point lead over Missouri, which was finishing on floor. UCLA was on beam.


The unforgiving event rattled the Bruins, who showed signs of postseason nerves for the first time during the two-day regional. Waller acknowledged they got a little tight.

Chiles, Chae Campbell and Flatley’s replacement Frida Esparza, who was competing on beam for the first time this season, all scored below a 9.8. The door was open for the Tigers.

Malabuyo mounted the beam as UCLA’s last competitor with the Bruins down by 0.175. The U.S. Olympic alternate’s near-perfect score pushed UCLA ahead by 0.05 momentarily.

No. 14 UCLA gymnastics will begin their NCAA championship quest in the regionals Thursday in Raleigh, N.C.

March 30, 2022

The less than 30 seconds of waiting for Missouri’s final score felt “like a century,” Flatley said.

“That was a 10.0 performance regardless of what the score was,” Waller said of Malabuyo. “And for a freshman to do that in such an important moment, I hope that she puts this in tool kit and brings this out every time she’s looked at to step in in that important moment. Because that was a veteran’s move right there.”

Missouri counted four scores of 9.9 or better on floor while UCLA had only one such mark on beam, its second-best event this season. UCLA’s beam score of 49.125 was its lowest on the event since Feb. 20 against Arizona State.