-- A great preview to get us ready for one of the premier gymnastics programs in the country. Bumped. -- BN eds.
Welcome to the 2014 UCLA Gymnastics season, which kicked off Sunday with a party and preview at Pauley, but officially begins in January after the winter break. As a UCLA gymnastics fan, I wanted to give my look at the upcoming season and hopefully not step on any toes – you need every last toe to hold on to the beam or to stick your landings.
This year should be a good year for UCLA – but this is a young team. There are only two seniors on this team, and four juniors, so UCLA will be looking to the freshmen and sophomores to deliver more than they possibly have been asked to in the past. UCLA traditionally has not asked freshmen to compete in all four events their first year, to ease them into college competition, but Coach Val may not have that luxury this year.
To start, let’s look at who will not be returning to UCLA this year – Vanessa Zamarripa, Kaelie Baer, Alyssa Pritchett, Monique de la Torre, and Lichelle Wong, and Asi Peko.
The biggest loss is obviously Zamarripa – it’s hard to replace a consistent 9.9 all-around gymnast who is considered one of the best gymnasts to ever come through UCLA and compete at the college level (she’d be on my UCLA all time team, for sure, and anchoring vault.) But we can’t look past the other gymnasts. Baer was a solid leadoff gymnast for the Bruins on beam, and qualified for the NCAA finals on vault, Pritchett really came into her own last year on the floor (and is currently working on competing at the Elite level, which she never did before UCLA) and de la Torre and Wong were solid contributors last season, de la Torre before injury and Wong whenever a solid performance was needed. Asi Peko did not compete last year and has transferred to ASU.
Looking at it from a points perspective, we’re losing a consistent 9.8 and 9.9 per event – will UCLA be able to replace these points in the coming season with their current squad?
Let’s look at the impact returning members of the 2013 NCAA 4th place squad:
Olivia Courtney: Courtney had a great 2013 season, placing third in the individual event finals at NCAAs in vault, and should be available as an all-around gymnast. I’ve always enjoyed her floor routines, but I think she’s great all-around.
Samantha Peszek: Peszek, now a redshirt junior, is returning to the Bruins after using her redshirt last season as she recovered from a ruptured Achilles. UCLA missed her last season, as it’s hard to consistently replace a 9.8-9.9 per apparatus, along with her experience of competing on the biggest of stages. She should be able to bounce back from the injury to have another great season for UCLA, and most likely compete in the all-around. She is a former NCAA champion on the beam, and her presence will be needed.
Danusia Francis: Francis, a sophomore, took the NCAAs by storm by introducing her new element – a sideways arial, which had not been shown before in the NCAAs. An All-American on the beam, she will keep the element in her beam routine this year, right before her dismount. She was a great surprise last year on the beam, eventually anchoring the team on the event, which is crazy to think about as a freshman. She will need to improve on bars and floor (she had tumbling issues on floor, and she can tighten up her bars a bit) to make UCLA stronger. If there’s one thing you should always watch for with Danusia is her flexibility – it’s insane how she can contort her body.
Sophina DeJesus: DeJesus, a sophomore, should take a bigger role on the floor for UCLA this year. She is a fantastic dancer (ask your kids if they ever watched Hip Hop Harry) and Coach Val will take advantage of that again this year.
These four gymnasts I expect to make the most impact on the Bruins, but every Bruin is talented in their own way and will be able to affect the scores. For example, Sydney Sawa really came in to her own on the floor last season (admittedly, it was late in the season, and at times I felt her score was a bit inflated) but she also could thrown in a consistent vault (although a higher scoring one would be better, she just does the one she does really well) and could be a solid leadoff on vault.
Mattie Larson: Oh Mattie. What an enigma. She was hurt at the end of the season, which really did hurt the Bruins, but hopefully she’ll be ready in January. They will need Mattie on beam and hopefully bars, and maybe she’ll be mentally ready to compete in more events. She is so insanely talented, I just want the best from her. And to bring back her spectacular double layout. Such a shame that element isn’t worth it in college.
Sadiqua Bynum and Dana McDonald will also compete for the Bruins, as Sadiqua did last year on floor and Dana occasionally on vault, but we’ll see how they’re used as the season progresses. I haven’t seen enough of Ellette Craddock to form an opinion of how she’ll score this year for UCLA, but she is a beautiful gymnast.
One gymnast I did not name: Christine Peng-Peng Lee. She did not compete last year due to coming off of ACL surgery, and unfortunately she had to undergo a "redo" of that surgery, and will not compete again this season, which is really disappointing, as she is a beautiful gymnast and I was excited to see her routines.
Wow, this is really long, I didn’t realize I was this wordy! I still haven’t even talked about the new Bruins! If you have questions, please ask. J