Much is expected of Valorie Kondos-Field’s top-ranked UCLA Women’s Gymnastics team this season, and they did not disappoint in their season opener against fifth ranked Utah at the John Wooden Center.
Before a packed crowd that was very loud and enthusiastic throughout the meet – which included the yell crew, alumni yell leader Geoff Strand, who’s a fixture and a tradition at football games, and the UCLA Alumni Band – the Bruins defeated Utah, 196.075 – 196.025, after beginning the day in spectacular fashion by having four gymnasts scoring 9.9 or higher on the vault, led by Tauny Frattone’s 9.95 and Samantha Peszek’s, who won the individual all-around with a score of 39.45 (out of 40), career-high 9.925.
Vanessa Zamarippa, seeing action for the first time in two years, showed no rust in scoring a 9.9 on the vault (she was the NCAA champion on the vault in 2010) and a 9.825 on the uneven parallel bars.
The domination continued on the bars as all six Bruins scored at least a 9.825 on that apparatus, led by Aisha Gerber’s 9.9 and Olivia Courtney’s 9.875.
It was on UCLA’s next rotation, the balance beam – which has historically been these Bruins’ weakest apparatus – that the Bruin fans in the crowd started to worry as not only did Courtney and Lichelle Wong perform shakily, scoring a 9.4 and a 9.55 respectively, they had to count those scores when Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, normally a solid lock on the beam, fell during her routine.
That left the floor exercise, which is UCLA’s strongest event and has been for many years, as the opportunity for the team to secure the win, but Courtney and Hopfner-Hibbs stepped out of bounds during their perfomances.
Peszek’s 9.875 was a key to the win, and Hopfner-Hibbs’ 9.675 was good enough to hold off Utah.
“I’m very pleased that we got the scoeres that we deserved, especially on vault,” Kondos-Field said. “I am disappointed with beam, however. They were perfectly prepared to come out and hit…but they just weren’t (hitting) today. But it was nice to see them come back and win the meet because too often we don’t after a missed event.”
Peszek was competing in the all-around for the first time in her UCLA career, so for her to win it was most impressive. Mattie Larson, in her collegiate debut, placed fourth with a score of 39.05, and Courtney, in scoring 38.875, placed fifth.
It was a good win for these Bruins, and it was particularly nice to see the team overcome their shakiness on the balance beam to pull off the victory – they stand at 1-0 – but they have some work to do to clean up things on the beam and the floor.
NEXT OPPONENT: California at Berkeley, Sunday, January 15.