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UCLA Gymnastics Places Third at NCAA Championships

UCLA's Event Finalists.  From UCLA Gymnastics <a href="" target="new">Twitter</a>.
UCLA's Event Finalists. From UCLA Gymnastics Twitter.

In a weekend with spectacular gymnastics from the top three teams, the UCLA Bruins Gymnastics team found themselves 0.100 points out of first place on Saturday, bested by Alabama, who won their second consecutive championship, and barely edged out by Florida by 0.025 for second place.

The competition was close all day, and came down to UCLA in the fifth rotation (they had a bye in the sixth and final rotation) to set the mark the other schools had to beat. UCLA was on the balance beam, and had spectacular performances by Vanessa Zamarripa with a 9.950. Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs was up next, and during an aerial series, had an uncharacteristic fall. She tried to stay on the beam, but just could not keep her balance, and lost 0.500 points from her score. Samantha Peszek followed up the performance with a spectacular, nearly perfect 9.950 to keep UCLA in the hunt. With Hopfner-Hibbs' fall, UCLA had to count a 9.725 on the beam from Aisha Gerber (who nearly lost her footing on the beam during her dismount) in their team score. If Hopfner-Hibbs had scored a 9.9 (she scored a 9.975 at the Pac-12 Championships with the same routine) UCLA would have/could have won their seventh national title.

Gymnastics is a sport of tiny wobbles, steps, and gigantic leaps in the air by some of the smallest athletes, and while the Bruins went 23 for 24 on the night in their routines, Alabama and Florida really pulled through and went six for six in the final rotation when it was needed. Congratulations are in order to Alabama, as they were flying on their final rotation and to all the teams that competed. Everyone - UCLA, Alabama, Florida, our Pac-12 brethren Utah and Stanford, and Arkansas - had a spectacular Super Six and posted high scores.

UCLA's overall score was a 197.750, just behind Florida's 197.725, and Alabama's 197.850. 0.100 separated third from first place. That's one step on one landing. Think about that the next time a receiver has a foot out of bounds - that's how close we were to possibly tying Alabama. The 197.750 would have won easily last year, where we lost by 0.275 points.

This wasn't a season to sniff at - UCLA still won the inaugural Pac-12 Championship, won their NCAA Regional, won their Semi-Final, and came in third to two of the highest scoring teams in the country. They broke the 198 point barrier against Arizona State. The 197.750 was their third highest score of the season.

Let's look at the NCAA Championships from Saturday and the Event Finals from Sunday. The athletes of the NCAA Championships were Vanessa Zamarripa and Samantha Peszek. Zamarripa tied her career high in the all-around with a 39.775, including a perfect 10 on vault. Peszek scored a career high 39.675, including a career best on bars (9.925) and beam (9.95.)

The team started on floor, and posted a good starting score of 49.35, with Peszek and Olivia Courtney scoring 9.90s. (Note for next year, this is the area where the scores could probably use the most improvement. Courtney looks spectacular on floor, we need the younger gymnasts to step up with the graduation of Tauny Frattone.) UCLA then moved to the vault, where they earned a 49.525, with Zamarripa closing the rotation with a bang with a 10.00.

After the bye, UCLA moved to the bars, pushed down into third place after Alabama's and Florida's rotations. UCLA tied their season high on bars with a 49.475, with Zamarripa with a 9.95 (and a 10 from one judge) and Peszek with the 9.925.

UCLA then moved onto the beam, where the scores were trending upwards after Gerber started with a 9.725. Hopfner-Hibbs is normally dependable, but unfortunately this was the one time she missed this extremely difficult element in her routine. Peszek, after a really long wait but with a smile on her face, anchored the UCLA beam rotation with a 9.95 and an overall team score of 49.4, but unfortunately it was not enough to counter the lower scores from earlier and UCLA ended the day in third place.

The quality of gymnastics in this meet was intense. If you can catch the replay on ESPNU in the coming week. You also have to cheer on Stanford, Utah, and Arkansas. Utah is a great team, but Stanford and Arkansas are probably two schools that were down so many people, you didn't expect them to make the Super Six, but they held their own, both scoring over 197.

On Sunday, the five Bruins that qualified in the event finals competed one last time. UCLA did not win any individual titles, but if you watched, it was to watch Kat Ding of Georgia, who was SPECTACULAR on her events. It is a shame that Georgia didn't qualify for the Super Six, as it would have been fun to watch her two days in a row.

Overall Results for Event Finals:

Uneven Bars:
3. Olivia Courtney, 9.8875
5. Vanessa Zamarripa, 9.8500
6. Aisha Gerber, 9.8250

Balance Beam:
7. Samantha Peszek, 9.8500
Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, 9.7750

Floor Exercise:
3. Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, 9.9375
6. Vanessa Zamarripa, 9.9000

That's the end of this year's season. Next year, Coach Val has a great recruiting class coming in with a good mix of different level and elite level gymnasts, such as Asi Peko, Peng Peng Lee from Canada who recently snagged 4 medals at the Pacific Rim Championships, Danusia Francis from Britain, an Elite Level Gymnast, and Sophina DeJesus a former US National Team Member.