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Bruins Face Utes in Friday Night Showdown

Feb 18, 2021
Frida Esparza (photo by Jamie Mitchell)

Meet Notes (PDF)

No. 14 UCLA at No. 3 Utah
Date/Time: Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 – 7 p.m. MT / 6 p.m. PT
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah (Huntsman Center)
TV Talent: Sam Gore, Samantha Peszek
Live Stats:

Pac-12 rivals UCLA (4-0, 3-0 in conference play) and Utah (6-1, 3-0) will face off in a Friday night matchup in Salt Lake City. The meet will be televised live on ESPNU at 7pm MT/6pm PT. Sam Gore and 2015 NCAA all-around and beam champion Samantha Peszek will call the action.

The dual meet matchup last year between UCLA and Utah was one for the ages, with the Utes squeaking out a 198.075-198.025 victory in Pauley Pavilion after Abby Paulson scored a perfect 10 on beam on their last routine. The Utes earned a school-record 49.775 on beam in the rotation to hold off the Bruins, who totaled 49.8 on floor. Earlier in the meet, another perfect 10 on beam made NCAA history, as UCLA's Grace Glenn became the first-ever leadoff performer to score a 10 on beam.

UCLA and Utah have combined to win seven of the eight contested Pac-12 Championships, with UCLA taking the titles in 2019, 2018, 2016 and 2012, and Utah winning in 2017, 2015, and 2014. The Utes also won the 2020 regular season Pac-12 title. At the national level, the teams have won a total of 16 NCAA Championships, with UCLA taking seven (1997, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2018) and Utah winning nine (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995).

UCLA remained unbeaten after a 195.625-193.500 win at Washington on Feb. 14. Competing for the second time in five days and with another meet coming up in five days, the Bruins rested some gymnasts and utilized many new faces on different events on their way to improving to 4-0 on the year. Junior Margzetta Frazier captured her first-ever all-around win, scoring a season-high 39.325. She also took first place on uneven bars with another season-high of 9.925, added the Bruins' top mark on floor exercise with a second-place mark of 9.9 and tied her career-best on beam with a 9.825. Freshman Chae Campbell won both events she competed, scoring 9.875 on vault to tie for first and earning 9.9 on beam to take top honors. Senior Kendal Poston also had a strong showing, earning Top 3 finishes on both vault (9.800, tied for third) and beam (season-high 9.850 in the leadoff position).

UCLA had the opportunity to debut four routines at Washington, with three Bruins making the floor lineup for the first time in their careers, and Kalyany Steele making her first run of the season on uneven bars after sitting out the first three meets while recovering from injury. Seeing the floor for the first time in either competition or even exhibition was junior Sara Taubman, who scored 9.650 on a routine passed down to her from her mentor, former UCLA All-American Alyssa Pritchett. Freshman Sara Ulias, who had performed a pair of exhibition floor routines earlier in the year, made the scoring lineup for the first time and contributed a 9.725. Junior Samantha Sakti, who regularly competed on floor as a freshman for William & Mary, saw her first competitive action on floor for the Bruins and showed off huge tumbling and scored 9.625 after a start value issue. Steele on bars contributed a 9.725 in her first competitive routine since Feb. 29, 2020.

Senior Nia Dennis made her first all-around appearance since January 2019 against BYU Feb. 10 and earned a career-high 39.475 to win the all-around against BYU on Feb. 10. Dennis also tied for first place on vault, balance beam and floor exercise, recording a season-high on beam and receiving one perfect 10 score on floor from the two judges. Dennis had not competed on uneven bars for two years due to a shoulder injury, which she had repaired in June. She scored 9.8 in her return to the event and improved to 9.85 a few days later at Washington. Dennis was a first-team All-American on bars in 2019.

For the second time in as many years, and after her first performance of her new floor exercise routine, Nia Dennis has gone viral. Dennis' routine celebrating black culture picked up steam in a hurry after it was posted to social media the day after the Bruins' season opener. Within an hour, it went viral, and the video currently has 11M views on Twitter alone. Her routine was shared by the likes of Michelle Obama, Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott, Common and Kerry Washington. Dennis made a repeat visit to The Ellen Show and appeared on the Today Show, the NBA on TNT and Access Hollywood. Last season, Dennis' Beyonce routine also went viral, as did a TikTok video of her hitting the woah in her routines.

Just two and a half weeks after Nia Dennis went viral, her teammate Margzetta Frazier also shot to internet stardom after debuting her new Janet Jackson routine on Feb. 10. Video of Frazier's routine was shared by Jackson herself, and the routine was also featured on Good Morning America. Frazier scored a season-high 9.925 on the routine, tying for first place with Dennis.

Although more than half of UCLA's expected freshman class did not make it to campus this year as they pursued Olympic berths, the three freshmen who are in Westwood are making a huge impression on the Bruin team. Chae Campbell has become an all-around force, recording 39.425 in just her second collegiate meet and receiving Pac-12 Freshman of the Week acclaim. She already has career-bests of 9.9 or better on vault, beam and floor, along with a 9.85 on bars. Frida Esparza has two uneven bars victories in four meets and won Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors after her first meet, during which she won bars with a 9.9 and scored 9.8 on beam. Esparza improved upon her beam score the following week, scoring 9.9. Sara Ulias made her competitive debut on Feb. 10 against BYU, scoring 9.725 on uneven bars. She debuted on floor exercise on Feb. 14, scoring 9.725.

UCLA's highest-ranked event this season is vault, where the Bruins rank No. 11 nationally. This is all the more impressive considering UCLA had only competed five vaulters in all but one meet, with just one 10.0 start value vault among the five (Kendal Poston). Both Chae Campbell and Nia Dennis have scored 9.9 this season, and Poston has a high of 9.875. Campbell is the team's highest-ranked vaulter at No. 19. The Bruins competed six vaulters for the first time on Feb. 10 against BYU, adding Sekai Wright, who competed a 10.0 start-value Yurchenko 1.5 vault. The Bruins have scored 49.1 or higher on vault in three of four meets.

The Bruins' uneven bars squad is rounding into form with the return of Nia Dennis and Kalyany Steele last week. Dennis returned to the lineup on Feb. 10 for her first uneven bars routine since 2018 (shoulder injury) and scored 9.8. She improved her mark to 9.85 on Feb. 14. Steele returned on Feb. 14 for her first routine since Feb. 29 and contributed a 9.725. Also making her way into the bars lineup was freshman Sara Ulias, who impressed with a 9.725 on her debut performance on Feb. 10. Margzetta Frazier and Frida Esparza have been the Bruins' highest-scoring performers, with Frazier earning a high of 9.925 and Esparza twice hitting 9.9 with two victories.

Bruin seniors Nia Dennis, Savannah Kooyman, Kendal Poston and Pauline Tratz have been rock solid this season, hitting a combined 33-for-34. Dennis has scored 9.8 or higher on all but one routine and leads the Bruins with two 9.95 scores. Kooyman is averaging 9.775 on bars with a high of 9.825. Poston averages 9.831 on vault, with a high of 9.875, and 9.788 on beam, with a best of 9.85, achieved while in the leadoff position at Washington Feb. 14. And while Tratz has been strong on her usual events - vault and floor - with highs of 9.85 and 9.9, respectively, she also provided clutch uneven bars routines the first two meets, hitting under pressure situations despite having not competed at all on bars as a Bruin prior to this year.

UCLA entered the week No. 14 in the national rankings, which are currently determined by season average. The Bruins rank No. 11 on vault, No. 12 on floor, No. 17 on beam and No. 18 on bars. Individually, Nia Dennis ranks fourth on floor and eighth in the all-around. Margzetta Frazier is 24th in the all-around, 12th on floor and 22nd on bars, and Chae Campbell is 19th on vault.

UCLA ended a shortened 2020 campaign ranked No. 3 in the nation, finishing 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 in January, and has been without Flatley, who injured her ankle just before the season opener. 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.

Utah ranks third in the nation and is Top 8 on every event, checking in at No. 3 on balance beam, No. 4 on floor exercise, No. 6 on vault and No. 8 on uneven bars. Sophomore Maile O'Keefe has won Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week honors in three of four weeks and ranks No. 7 in the all-around and No. 2 on beam. She scored a perfect 10 on beam on Jan. 30.

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.

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 (Lee, Jeffrey) and those who signed previously but have deferred enrollment (Chiles, Malabuyo, Paduariu). The ranking does not include Canadian National Team member Brooklyn Moors, who has enrolled this year but will redshirt the season.

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 (441k followers) and Snapchat (582k subscribers). The Bruins rank first among all NCAA gymnastics teams on Instagram (416k), Facebook (539k) and Twitter (79.8k).