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Gymnastics Wins Season Opener over ASU, 196.150-195.950

Jan 23, 2021
Nia Dennis

Complete Results (PDF) | Postmeet Press Conference

A short-handed UCLA gymnastics 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 (1-2). The Bruins (1-0) clinched the meet on the final routine when Nia Dennis scored a 9.950 on floor exercise.

"I really couldn't be any more proud of our team," said UCLA head coach Chris Waller. "The team love they showed, the heart they showed in getting themselves to be confident with so little preparation, the resilience, the pride they took in each other and in their performances … I just couldn't say enough about how proud I am of the character of the team."

The Bruins were dealt a blow in preseason warmups when Norah Flatley tweaked her ankle in warmups, taking her out of the competition. 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.

The first-time competitors were plentiful for UCLA. Most notably, junior Sara Taubman earned her first shot at the competitive lineup on uneven bars. Put in a tough position after the leadoff competitor 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.

Waller called it "one of the most memorable moments of my coaching career."

Said Taubman, "I felt like I was doing the whole routine with my team. As I was going into that last handstand, I really felt like the whole team was swinging with me, and when I landed, I don't know if you could see it on my face, but it was a good feeling for sure."

Her score, along with freshman Frida Esparza's 9.9 and 9.8s from Margzetta Frazier and Kooyman, helped the Bruins maintain a slim lead at the halfway mark, 98.175-98.125.

UCLA began the meet with a meet-best score of 49.200 on vault, despite putting up just five vaulters. Dennis led the Bruins with a 9.9, Kendal Poston contributed a 9.875, and Tratz and freshman Chae Campbell each hit 9.85s, while Frazier scored 9.725.

The Bruins hit 6-for-6 on beam, scoring 49.000 in rotation three to extend the lead to 147.175-146.850. Samantha Sakti took first place with a 9.9, and Frazier and Esparza each scored 9.8, while Poston scored 9.775 and Kooyman 9.6 in her debut. The Sun Devils were hurt by two out-of-bounds deductions on floor and scored 48.725.

Floor exercise started slow for UCLA with neither of the first three gymnasts able to hit higher than 9.65, and the Sun Devils took over the lead. However, the Bruins' closing third of Frazier, Campbell and Dennis were phenomenal, with Frazier and Campbell hitting back-to-back 9.9s, and Dennis earning 9.95 to seal the victory.

Arizona State's Hannah Scharf won the all-around with a 39.475, and UCLA swept the individual events, with Dennis winning vault and floor, Esparza winning bars and Sakti winning beam.

UCLA next competes at Arizona on Sunday, Jan. 31.