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UCLA women's gymnastics team earns 2015 Pac-12 Sportsmanship Award

SAN FRANCISCO – The Pac-12 Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) has voted to award the women’s gymnastics team at UCLA with the Pac-12 Sportsmanship Award for 2014-15, the Conference announced today. The honor recognizes the strength of character and tremendous sportsmanship the Bruins displayed after a competitor was seriously injured during the 2015 Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships. 

It was late in the meet and UTAH was in the lead, with UCLA chasing closely behind. The Bruins were on the vault, while the Utes were right beside them competing on the floor.  Utah senior Tory Wilson, who had already scored a 10.0 that day, tore her right Achilles and broke her left foot during the opening tumbling pass of her floor routine and had to be carried off the floor as her collegiate gymnastics career ended in a way no one could have imagined.

“The whole arena fell silent,” UCLA senior gymnast Samantha Peszek said. “As much as you want to beat another team, when someone has an injury like that, your first instinct is to help out.”

Wilson’s injury caused her to score a 1.0 out of 10.0 on the routine and opened the door for UCLA to make a comeback. But instead of focusing solely on the opportunity to win the championship, the Bruins also displayed incredible empathy for the Utah gymnasts and encouraged the Utes throughout the rest of the meet. Peszek and Utah senior Corrie Lothrop, who was to immediately follow Wilson on the floor, had both torn their Achilles earlier in their careers. Peszek knew Lothrop would be rattled by seeing that exact same injury happen to a teammate. So Peszek and her fellow Bruins took it upon themselves to approach the Utah gymnasts before each of their subsequent routines, cheer them on, and offer words of support. 

“When any athlete is injured it can be hard to cope with, especially when it is your own teammate,” Utah senior gymnast Georgia Dabritz said. “Often you will receive support from teammates, coaches, and fans, but rarely do you receive support from opposing teams. However, during the Pac-12 Championships, UCLA displayed great sportsmanship towards us.”

As every hit routine by Utah diminished UCLA’s own chances of winning the championship, the Bruins remained steadfast in support of the Utes. They continued to cheer and clap at every Utah routine. 

“When Tory got injured our team experienced something I've preached to them a lot: the joy you get from doing something for someone else without expecting anything in return is greater than the joy the other person receives,” UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field said. “The support they felt for Tory and the next Utes up was bigger and more satisfying than whatever scores we would have received for our last three vaulters. It truly was athletics at its finest.”

Utah ended up winning the Pac-12 Championship and going on to overcome a rocky regionals performance to take second place overall at NCAA Championships.

“What UCLA did for our team at the Pac-12 Championships was probably the classiest display of sportsmanship I have ever seen from an opponent during a competition,” Utah head coach Megan Marsden said. “An injury like that to a teammate can be devastating. To have members of UCLA’s team come over and encourage our last three gymnasts that they could do it, was something we will never forget and will always appreciate.”

The Sportsmanship Award is selected by members of the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and is based on good sportsmanship and ethical behavior in participation of intercollegiate athletics, as well as a demonstration of good citizenship outside of the sports-competition setting. Nominees must have demonstrated the values of respect and integrity through a specific action, ideally directed toward an opponent. The student-athlete must have consistently demonstrated the values of respect and integrity in his or her daily participation in intercollegiate athletics. Conference award winners are then nominated for the NCAA Division I Sportsmanship Award. 

Previous Pac-12 Sportsmanship Award winners:
2004    Grayling Love, Arizona State
2005    Channing Frye, Arizona; Cara Chlebicki, California
2006    Eric Nygard, Washington State; Anna Key, California
2007    Mitch Canham, Oregon State; Jennifer Tangtiphaiboontana, Stanford
2008    Michael Capbarat, California; Arianna Lambie, Stanford
2009    Stenn Parton, USC; Lindsey Kelley, Arizona
2010    Ben Ashmore, Arizona State; Stanford women’s rowing team
2011    Jeff Gudaitis, Washington; Katie Matusik, Arizona
2012    Bryson Beirne, Arizona; Brittany Hart, Oregon
2013    Kylie Sharp, Washington
2014    University of Colorado Student-Athletes
2015    UCLA women’s gymnastics team

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