UCLA Hosts Nebraska On Senior Day March 15

March 12, 2009

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This Week -- The seventh-ranked UCLA gymnastics team (10-3) will host its final home meet of the season on Sunday, March 15 at 2 pm in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins will take on 12th-ranked Nebraska (8-3) for the second time this season. Sunday's meet will be the last in Pauley Pavilion for seniors Ariana Berlin, Melissa Chan, Kristina Comforte and Alyssa Kitasoe.

Tickets -- Tickets for the meet can be purchased in advance at the UCLA Central Ticket Office (310/UCLA-WIN or tickets.ucla.edu). Adult admission is $12 for lower level seating and $8 for mid-level seating. Youth prices are $10 for the lower-level seats and $6 for mid-level seating. UCLA students are free with ID.

Live Coverage -- UCLA will provide a free live video and audio broadcast on UCLA All-Access, with Darren Preston and two-time NCAA all-around champion Tasha Schwikert providing the call. Live stats will also be available at UCLABruins.com.

Senior Salute -- Seniors Ariana Berlin, Melissa Chan, Kristina Comforte and Alyssa Kitasoe will have their final home meet this Sunday and will be honored in pre-meet ceremonies.

Berlin has been one of the most consistent and fierce competitors in UCLA Gymnastics history. She has never missed a meet in her career, competing in 53 straight meets, and she has rarely missed a routine, hitting over 96% of her routines over her career. Berlin earned Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year honors in 2006 and is a two-time All-Pac-10 honoree in the all-around and a two-time Scholastic All-American.

Chan has not been able to compete yet this season due to injuries but has had memorable moments throughout her career, including scoring a 9.9 on only her third beam routine of the season in 2007 to help the Bruins earn fourth place at the NCAA Super Six. She led the team in 2006 with a 9.844 season average on beam and had three individual victories on the year, including an all-around win against Oregon State.

Comforte had three outstanding seasons as a gymnast before injury retiring at the beginning of this season and moving into a role as undergraduate assistant coach. She was a five-time All-American and the NCAA runner-up on vault in 2006 and on bars in 2008, and in 2006, she scored a perfect 10 on vault at Cal State Fullerton.

Kitasoe has been the Bruins' team manager for the past three seasons. She competed for the Bruins in 2006 in four meets.

Meet Promotions -- Sunday is Disco Fever Day. All fans dressed for the occasion (70's garb) will receive half price admission to the meet. Meet program posters, featuring Ariana Berlin, Melissa Chan and Kristina Comforte, will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis to the first 1,000 fans in attendance. At the conclusion of the meet will be the fourth annual Mascot Dance-Off, featuring Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny courtesy of Six Flags Magic Mountain, Thunder from the Lake Elsinore Storm and UCLA's very own Joe and Josie Bruin.

Best Deal In Los Angeles Sports -- The Los Angeles Times Fabulous Forum blog says UCLA Gymnastics could be the best deal in Los Angeles sports. Read the blog here.

In The Rankings -- The Bruins still hold the third-highest season average in the nation (196.4) but dropped one spot to No. 7 in the national rankings, which are based on RQS. UCLA's RQS remains at 196.430. The Bruins rank No. 1 on vault (49.385), No. 6 on bars (49.210) and beam (49.105) and seventh on floor (49.175).

Vanessa Zamarripa ranks first on vault for the third consecutive week with a 9.945 RQS. Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs now ranks 14th in the all-around (39.330), 15th on floor (9.880) and 18th on beam (9.875). Aisha Gerber ranks 11th on beam (9.880) and 18th on vault (9.880), and Ariana Berlin is tied for 17th on bars (9.865).

About The Huskers -- Nebraska ranks 12th in the national rankings with a RQS of 195.830. The Huskers are led by junior Kylie Stone, who ranks 22nd in the all-around and seventh on floor, and senior Tricia Woo, who is ranked No. 3 on the balance beam. Nebraska will compete at Arizona State on Friday before coming to Westwood for Sunday's meet.

Rematch! -- The Bruins are hoping to avenge a loss at Nebraska just three weeks ago. Falls on the balance beam erased the Bruins' lead in the final rotation, and the Huskers won the meet by just one-tenth of a point. The win narrowed UCLA's all-time record against Nebraska to 10-6.

Last Time Out -- UCLA lost to top-ranked Georgia in a dual meet last Sunday, 197.725-196.125. Three falls on the balance beam took the Bruins out of contention, but the team rebounded with a season-high score on floor exercise in the final rotation (49.375) to end the meet on a positive note. Ariana Berlin, who was questionable leading into the meet after tweaking her knee three days earlier, not only competed all-around but scored a career-high with a 39.5. She also earned a career-high on beam, scoring a 9.9 in the leadoff slot. Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs also performed well with a 39.45 in the all-around and a career-high 9.925 on floor. Vanessa Zamarripa contributed three 9.9+ scores on vault, bars and floor.

Berlin Brings It -- Senior Ariana Berlin remains one of the most consistent gymnasts in UCLA history, hitting over 96% of her routines throughout her career. So far this season, she has hit all 25 of her routines, with 21 of those 25 scores going for 9.8 or better. She averages 9.78 or higher on all four events - 9.856 on bars, 9.85 on vault, 9.833 on floor and 9.789 on beam. She has five individual titles this season, including a team-best three on bars. Two of her titles came at Arizona State on Jan. 30, when she tied her career-high on vault with a 9.9 and won the all-around in her first all-around attempt this year, scoring 39.3. Also at that meet, Berlin accomplished a feat she has been working on for three years - competing an Arabian double front on floor exercise. Berlin performed the E-level skill for the first time in competition and hit it, scoring 9.8 to lead all Bruins on the event.

Zamarripa Finds Perfection Three Times -- Freshman Vanessa Zamarripa notched her second consecutive perfect 10 on vault on Feb. 22 at Nebraska, floating a perfect Yurchenko layout full for an easy stuck landing. It was her third 10.0 of the season - she previously scored 10s at Cal State Fullerton on Jan. 23 at home in a quad meet on Feb. 15. Zamarripa is the first UCLA gymnast to score three perfect 10s in a season since Tasha Schwikert in 2005 and the first Bruin to score three 10s on the same event in one season since Jeanette Antolin had eight 10s on vault in 2004. Zamarripa, who has earned Pac-10 Special Performance of the Week honors three times this season and Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week honors once, is ranked first in the nation on vault with a RQS of 9.945. Her season average of 9.933 also tops all vaulters. Zamarripa has scored under 9.9 just once this season, earning a low of 9.875 at Arizona State.

Hopfner-Hibbs On A Roll -- Freshman Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs has been the model of consistency and excellence for the Bruins, hitting 28 of her last 29 routines with scores of 9.775 or better. Twenty-one of those 28 hit routines have gone for 9.85 or better. Her streak of hit routines ended at 24 in UCLA's last rotation on beam at Oregon State. Hopfner-Hibbs leads the team with 23 Top 3 finishes and ranks second with nine individual victories. She holds a season average of 9.861 on vault and has averaged 9.9 in her last three meets. On floor, she averages 9.842, and on beam she averages 9.797, second-best on the squad. Hopfner-Hibbs leads the team with three all-around titles. She has twice earned Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week honors (Jan. 27 and Feb. 24).

McCullough Back On Floor -- Redshirt sophomore Brittani McCullough made an emotional return to the floor exercise lineup Feb. 15, competing on floor for the first time since rupturing her Achilles tendon on the event a year ago. McCullough, who captivated the audience with her unique dance, tumbled a double pike for her opening pass and ended with a double tuck to earn a 9.675 on her routine, which was valued at 9.9. She earned the same mark a week later at Nebraska after incurring an out of bounds deduction but earned a score of 9.85 from one of the two judges, and she had a career-best routine on Feb. 27 at Oregon State, tying her career-high with a 9.875. She would have had another career-high a week later against Georgia but stepped out of bounds on her opening tumbling pass, dropping her score to 9.825.

Gerber Returns As Good As New -- Freshman Aisha Gerber returned to competition Feb. 22 after being forced out of competition halfway through the Feb. 15 meet. Gerber fell on top of the low bar during one-touch warmups and was unable to complete her uneven bars routine, getting all the way to the dismount before dropping down off the bar due to shortness of breath. She was pulled from the remaining events for precautionary reasons but returned a week later to compete on three events at Nebraska. Gerber tied for first on beam with a 9.85, tied her career-high on vault with a 9.9 and debuted a full-in on floor exercise and scored 9.825. Gerber had another successful meet at Oregon State, clinching the Bruin victory with a clutch 9.875 routine on balance beam. She returned to the uneven bars on Mar. 8 against Georgia and scored 9.8.

O Canada -- UCLA has a long history of tapping into the Great White North for gymnastics talent. With three Canadians on the Bruin squad this season - sophomore Marci Bernholtz and freshmen Aisha Gerber and Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs - it has now been 16 consecutive years that UCLA has had a Canadian on the roster, with 1993 marking the last year no Canadians graced the Bruin roster. Bernholtz has represented Canada at the 2006 and 2007 World Championships and was the alternate for the 2004 Olympic Games. Gerber competed for Canada at World Cup events, the 2006 American Cup and 2004 Pacific Alliance meet. Hopfner-Hibbs represented Canada at the 2008 Olympics, 2005-07 World Championships and 2006 Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal on the balance beam at the 2006 Worlds to earn Canada's first-ever World medal on the women's side.

Four of UCLA's 13 NCAA individual champions are Canadian - Stella Umeh, Lena Degteva, Yvonne Tousek and Kate Richardson.

Youth Is Served -- With seven freshmen and five sophomores on a 16-member squad, the 2009 Bruins are undoubtedly a young team, and they were put to the test immediately, with the underclassmen holding 22 of the 24 slots in the competitive lineup in the first two meets of the season.

The freshman class alone competed 16 of the 24 routines in the season opener. Two freshmen competed in the all-around at Utah - Aisha Gerber, who placed third in the all-around and won the balance beam, and Vanessa Zamarripa, who placed fourth in the all-around and third on vault. Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs competed on three events and earned a third-place finish on beam. Kaelie Baer hit 3-for-3 on her routines, scoring 9.8 on vault, 9.775 on beam and 9.75 on floor. Alyssa Pritchett had a successful showing as well, scoring 9.8 on vault as a last-minute substitute. Five freshmen saw action on vault - Gerber, Zamarripa, Baer, Tauny Frattone and Pritchett.

The sophomores have come up big as well, hitting 75% of their routines for 9.7 or better, including three 9.9s from Mizuki Sato on vault and floor; a 9.9 on beam and 9.875 on floor from Niki Tom; a 9.95 on vault, 9.925 on bars and 9.875 on floor from Brittani McCullough; and a 9.85 on beam for Marci Bernholtz. The true sophomores (McCullough is a redshirt sophomore) have already racked up seven individual wins on the season after capturing just one a year ago.

Upperclassmen On Their Way Back -- After starting the season limited to no more than one event, the Bruin upperclassmen are on their way back to all-around action. Senior Ariana Berlin went from one event (uneven bars) in the first two meets to all-around action on Jan. 30, Feb. 27 and Mar. 8. She scored 39.3 in the first two meets and a career-high 39.5 in the last. Junior Anna Li also did just uneven bars in the first two meets and is now back on two events, having competed on balance beam three times now.

The Streak Lives On -- Senior Ariana Berlin's streak of consecutive meets has increased to 53 after competing all-around against Georgia. Berlin's streak was nearly broken when her knee locked up three days before the meet, but she recovered in time to not only compete but compete all-around and score a career-high 39.5. Berlin, who joined the UCLA squad in 2006 as a walk-on who had not competed in five years, has competed in every meet of her collegiate career and has hit over 96% of her routines over her career.

Looking Ahead -- The Bruins kick off postseason action at the Pac-10 Championships on Mar. 21 at Stanford.

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