The No. 6 UCLA gymnastics team is locked in. The Bruins have been preparing for this weekend for over a year, and it’s finally here. The NCAA Championship meet begins tomorrow under the lights at Pauley Pavilion, and the home crowd will be hoping to claim national title No. 109 for the greatest university in the world.
UCLA owns six national championships in women’s gymnastics, the last of which came in 2010. The event hasn’t been held at Pauley Pavilion since 2004, but the Bruins won it all that year, so there’s hope for another happy ending in 2013.
So far this season, the Bruins have only dropped one decision on their home floor, placing second in a quad-meet with Michigan, Cal and Iowa State. From that meet, only the Wolverines (who finished first) have qualified for this weekend’s championship. Other than that, UCLA went 3-0 in dual-meets at Pauley and came out on top in a February quad-meet against admittedly weak competition.
The Bruins have to be pleased playing host for the meet, as they’ve struggled on the road this year. UCLA posted a 2-3 record in dual-meets away from Westwood, and finished second in both the Pac-12 Championships in Corvallis, Ore. and the NCAA Regional in Columbus, Ohio.
Granted, the competition in some of those losses was extremely fierce. The Bruins fell at the hands of Oklahoma, Alabama and LSU, all teams ranked in the Top Five looking to leave L.A. with a crown this weekend. Interestingly, the Oregon State Beavers did not qualify for the championship despite beating UCLA twice during the regular season (once in a dual-meet and again in the conference championship, both at Gill Coliseum).
Versus the rest of the title field, UCLA has fared well, going a combined 4-0 against Pac-12 foes Stanford and Utah (Nos. 9 and 10, respectively), and taking a dual-meet victory over No. 11 Arkansas. If the Bruins can continue their dominance in those matchups on Friday, they stand a good chance of advancing to the Super Six on Saturday.
Under the tutelage of 23rd-year head coach Valorie Kondos Field (you read that right…twenty-three years), UCLA has become accustomed to success at the highest level. In addition to winning four national titles with Field at the helm, the Bruins have claimed 12 Pac-12 titles and 16 NCAA Regional titles. Last season, UCLA advanced to the Super Six of the NCAA Championship, but ultimately finished third behind national champion Alabama and this year’s No. 1-seed Florida.
This season, the Bruins’ goal is to raise another banner up in the rafters at Pauley Pavilion, but it isn’t going to be easy. The 2013 field is stacked with perennial powerhouses, including the only four schools to ever win a national title in women’s gymnastics (UCLA, Alabama, Utah and Georgia). If the Bruins hope to finish on top, they’ll need a season-best performance from the entire squad.
But one gymnast that UCLA won’t have to worry about is Vanessa Zamarripa, who should have no shortage of motivation entering her last collegiate competition. Zamarripa has been the model of consistency in her four seasons with the Bruins, easily establishing herself as the leader of the program. Though she can amaze on any apparatus, Zamarripa’s speciality is the vault, an event in which she has placed No. 1 nationally every year of her UCLA career. The stalwart senior, who measures in at an intimidating 5’1″, frequently sticks a “perfect 10″ on the vault, and did so in the Pac-12 Championship to win the all-around title.
If Zamarripa can continue her streak of dominance this weekend, the Bruins have a legitimate shot to shock the slew of SEC teams set on playing spoiler. And if the rest of the UCLA gymnasts can crank up the intensity too, the quest for 109 could come to an end in two days’ time. Let’s get the job done, Bruins!