For a brief moment, the window opened. Florida, the overwhelming favorite to win the NCAA Gymnastics championship, faltered on the beam. After one fall and a second routine with noticeable errors, the Gators gave all the teams in the gym hope that they could overtake them, if they performed to their career bests.
(Full scores available here.)
The Bruins started on the bars, which isn't one of their strongest events but they can put up a good team score. The goal for the Bruins was to improve on their scores from Friday, as that would be the only way they could keep up with Florida, Oklahoma and Alabama. It started well, as the Bruins posted 49.375 on uneven bars, an improvement over Friday's 49.175. The Bruins came out attacking, reaching for vertical on their handstands and sticking their landings. Vanessa Zamarripa, in her final team meet of her career, posted a 9.925 to lead the Bruins, and Sophina DeJesus contributed a 9.90. After the first rotation, the Bruins had the lead.
UCLA moved to beam, where overall, they improved slightly from the day before, with a 49.175 compared to a 49.075, but tenths were given up on balance checks on the routine. Olivia Courtney continued to have problems on the beam, as she nearly fell and grabbed the beam on one element, and then fell off completely on a second. Fortunately, the Bruins didn't have to count her score (which was below 9, ouch) but Zamarripa had a noticeable balance check in her routine, and Danusia Francis tried to cover up her balance checks with arm movements, and we lost precious tenths there. DeJesus led the team on the beam as she moonwalked to a 9.875. After two rotations, UCLA led by 0.300 but only two teams had completed two events.
UCLA sat out the third rotation, as Florida moved to the floor. It looked like their NCAA jinx followed, as their leadoff gymnast fell during her routine, but her teammates picked her up, as the remaining gymnasts all nailed their routines, and scored 9.90 or above, for a team score of 49.725. No, that's not a typo. 49.725! The lowest score that counted was a 9.90, and that was the ONLY 9.90. Florida made up those lost points from the beam quickly, and everyone started to worry that Florida was truly here to win. At the halfway point, UCLA fell to third, and Alabama led with a 98.750.
The Bruins moved to the floor in the fourth rotation, and the Bruins had to at least repeat their score from the day before of 49.450, which they did, but you could feel there was a lost opportunity with DeJesus only scoring a 9.750. We would have been in slightly better shape if she managed to pull off a 9.850 again. Courtney rebounded from her troubles on the beam to score a 9.90 on the floor, Pritchett contributed a 9.925, and Sydney Sawa, who has competed on the floor I think three times this year, improved her score from the day before to a 9.90. In the meantime, Florida was absolutely killing it on the vault, scoring a 49.50, and Oklahoma was killing it on beam with a 49.475. After four rotations, UCLA was second to Florida by only 0.100, and moving to their strongest event, the vault.
Maybe the pressure was starting to get to the Bruins. Maybe they knew that they needed to improve on an already great 49.50 from the day before. But the vault did not go UCLA's way on Saturday. The stickfest from the day before didn't show up on Saturday, and we were losing precious tenths on landings, leading to a team score of 49.100. The biggest gasp in Pauley probably went up for Zamarripa, who landed on her knees on her vault - the same vault she's done to perfect 10s this season. I don't think I've ever seen her fall, and it rattled her and the team, as they knew their chances were over at this point.
The Bruins wound up in fourth place overall, behind Florida, Oklahoma, and Alabama.
My tinge of regret for this season will be all the injuries. Despite the injuries, the Bruins did well. When Peszek tore her achilles, I knew we'd have a hard time this season replacing her scores. If she was available and competing, I think we legitimately had a shot at winning, especially since Florida's fall on balance beam brought their scores down from the lofty 198 I was expecting them to score. As UCLA Band' did the math for me in the open thread yesterday, If we assume Peszek scored a 9.85-9.900 per event, and assuming Zam didn't fall on her vault (for a 9.90 score) we could have posted a 197.65. Florida won with a 197.575. (ANGST!)
Congratulations to Florida, who has joined the club of NCAA Gymnastics champions, joining UCLA, Alabama, Georgia and Utah. Also congrats to Florida Coach Rhonda Faehn, who competed for UCLA in the early 90's and then served as a graduate assistant.
But overall, as Coach Val called this one of the toughest seasons for her as a coach, the Bruins still responded to all the challenges, stepped up to take on events they haven't in the past (Lichelle Wong competing in all-around this season when she normally wouldn't, Pritchett learning a new vault when she saw the team would need more vaulters) this was the little team that could.
Great job, Bruins. I can't wait for next season.
Thank you Bruin Seniors Kaelie Baer, Monique De La Torre, Alyssa Pritchett, Lichelle Wong, and Vanessa Zamarripa.