BRUINS TRAVEL TO ARIZONA
UCLA will hit the road for the first time this year, driving to Tucson, Ariz. to take on the 15th-ranked Arizona Wildcats on Sunday, Jan. 31 at 1pm MT/12pm PT. The meet will be live streamed at pac-12.com/live/university-arizona.
LAST TIME OUT
A short-handed Bruin squad was lifted by inspired performances by several newcomers and opened the 2021 season with a 196.150-195.950 victory over No. 15 Arizona State. The Bruins clinched the victory on the final routine when Nia Dennis scored a 9.950 on floor exercise. UCLA was dealt a blow in preseason warmups when Norah Flatley injured her ankle in warmups, taking her out of the competition and now out of action for several weeks. She was replaced on bars and beam by two teammates who had never competed for the Bruins on those events before – Pauline Tratz on bars and Savannah Kooyman on beam – and each delivered with a hit routine. UCLA gymnasts had the top event scores, with Dennis winning vault (9.9) and floor (9.95), freshman Frida Esparza winning bars (9.9), and junior Samantha Sakti taking beam (9.9).
DENNIS BREAKS THE INTERNET … AGAIN
For the second time in as many years, Nia Dennis has gone viral after just her first floor routine of the season. Dennis’ routine celebrating black culture picked up steam in a hurry after it was posted to social media on Sunday morning. Within an hour, it went viral, and the video currently has over 10M views on Twitter alone. Her routine was shared by the likes of Michelle Obama, Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott. Dennis made a repeat visit to The Ellen Show and appeared on the Today Show this week. Last season, Dennis’ Beyonce routine went viral as well, as did a TikTok compilation video of her hitting the woah.
Five Bruins saw action for the very first time last week, as the meet marked the collegiate debuts for freshmen Chae Campbell, Frida Esparza and Sara Ulias, sophomore Paige Hogan and junior Sara Taubman. Campbell debuted as an all-arounder and had big numbers on vault (9.85) and floor (9.9). Esparza won bars (9.9) and tied for fifth on beam (9.8) and was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. Ulias performed beautifully in an exhibition floor exercise performance. Hogan donned the UCLA leotard for the first time and competed on floor exercise, and Taubman was the feel-good story of the meet, hitting a pressure-filled set on uneven bars for a 9.825 in her first-ever performance.
Taubman, who had not even exhibitioned in a UCLA meet in two previous years, had to go up after leadoff performer Campbell fell. Taubman also had to overcome a notably long delay while the judges conferred on the previous routine. But when she finally took her turn, she came through big with a stuck double layout dismount and a score of 9.825, with one judge awarding her a 9.9. Taubman’s hit routine was even more important given that the Bruins were utilizing four athletes who had never before competing on bars in collegiate competition.
UCLA’s strongest event in the season opener was vault, where the Bruins scored 49.200 despite just five vaulters competing and just one 10.0 start value vault. Nia Dennis’ 9.9 led the way, and Kendal Poston earned 9.875 on her 10.0 vault (handspring pike front half). Chae Campbell stuck a big vault for a 9.85, and Pauline Tratz hit a strong leadoff vault for a 9.85, and Margzetta Frazier contributed a 9.725.
IN THE RANKINGS
After scoring 196.150 in the season opener, UCLA debuted at No. 11 in the national rankings, which are currently determined by season average. The Bruins rank No. 4 on vault, No. 11 on beam, No. 20 on bars, and No. 19 on floor. Individually, Nia Dennis ranks second on floor and fifth on vault. Kendal Poston ranks 13th on vault, Frida Esparza is sixth on bars, Samantha Sakti ranks 10th on beam, and Chae Campbell and Margzetta Frazier are tied for 10th on floor. Frazier also ranks 19th in the all-around.
ABOUT THE BRUINS
UCLA ended a shortened 2020 campaign ranked No. 3 in the nation and closed the campaign with five straight meets scoring 197 or above. The Bruins return three All-Americans in Nia Dennis, Norah Flatley and Margzetta Frazier but lose five All-Americans and perfect 10 scorers in 2020 Honda Award winner and two-time Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year Kyla Ross, 2016 Olympic gold and silver medalist Madison Kocian, Grace Glenn, Felicia Hano and Gracie Kramer. The Bruins will also be without the services of sophomore Chloe Lashbrooke this season after she suffered a torn achilles tendon earlier this month. UCLA did keep one of last year’s seniors – Nicole Shapiro, who had only competed two years and was granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA. New to the squad are freshmen Chae Campbell, Frida Esparza and Sara Ulias. Campbell was the U.S. junior vault champion in 2016 and a two-time Level 10 national champion. Esparza is a two-time World Championships competitor and the 2018 all-around national champion for Mexico. Ulias has placed Top 3 on uneven bars in the last two Level 10 Region 1 Championships.
SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
Arizona had six gymnasts make their collegiate debuts in a 197.075-195.650 season-opening loss at Utah. The Wildcats’ highest event score was 49.150 on beam, where they were led by freshman Jessica Castles, who scored 9.9. Arizona currently ranks 15th overall and sixth on beam. Castles is ranked 10th on beam.
FRAZIER, STEELE JOIN PAC-12’S DIVERSITY & INCLUSION GROUP
Junior Margzetta Frazier and sophomore Kalyany Steele will serve as UCLA representatives on the newly-formed Gymnasts for Peace, Action, and Change” (G-PAC). This student-athlete driven organization has representatives from all eight Pac-12 gymnastics programs. Together, these gymnasts will work to share ideas, formulate meet themes, host webinars, welcome guest speakers to campus, and more. G-PAC’s mission statement is as follows: G-PAC facilitates an environment where diversity and inclusion is both welcomed and encouraged. Strives to ignite lasting change by sharing experiences, providing others with education and outside resources, and creating an authentic safe space for fellow student-athletes. Inspires others to thrive at the edge of their comfort zone furthering the journey to true equality.
BRUINS, SUN DEVILS UNITE IN SHOW OF SOLIDARITY
Prior to UCLA’s season opener last week, the Bruins and Sun Devils united in a show of solidarity, kneeling together around the floor in a circle of unity for a moment of silence to demonstrate their solidarity for racial justice and anti-racism. As the team stated, “This circle of unity, with many different races represented, is a symbol of what the world should be – a diverse and harmonious community of individuals working together for the common good. There is still work to be done, and we will continue to take a stand and speak up for equality and for change.”
UCLA SIGNS TOP RECRUITING CLASS
UCLA has inked the No. 1-ranked signing class in the nation, according to College Gym News. The Bruins’ top-ranked class includes U.S. National Team members Jordan Chiles, Emily Lee and Emma Malabuyo, Canadian World medalist Ana Padurariu and U.S. senior elite Alexis Jeffrey. The rankings are based on a points system from the website’s recruit ratings system and include gymnasts who signed during the 2020 early signing period and those who signed previously but have deferred enrollment. The ranking does not include Canadian National Team member Brooklyn Moors, who has enrolled this year but will redshirt the season.
NO. 1 IN SOCIAL MEDIA FOLLOWERS
UCLA Gymnastics has the largest social media followings in all of women’s collegiate sports, ranking No. 1 in combined followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, a total over 1 million. The team has an additional reach of over 1 million on TikTok (434k followers) and Snapchat (583k subscribers). The Bruins rank first among all NCAA gymnastics teams on Instagram (409k), Facebook (533k) and Twitter (77.9k). Among all UCLA teams, gymnastics ranks first on Instagram and Facebook, and UCLA Gymnastics is the most followed collegiate women’s team Instagram account in the nation. Follow the Bruins at @UCLAGymnastics on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Snapchat and on Facebook at facebook.com/uclagymnastics.