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#4 UCLA Gymnastics Debuts With Two Former Olympians

Defending Pac-12 Champion UCLA boasts not one, but two Olympic gold medalists in their season opener against #17 Arkansas.

Olympics: Gymnastics Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The UCLA Gymnastics team will take on the Arkansas Razorbacks at 4:00pm PST at Pauley Pavilion today in hopes of beginning yet another successful season. The Bruins are the preseason favorite to capture the Pac-12 title, and this is the first time since 2014 that UCLA has ranked in the top spot. The Bruins are ranked #4 overall in the country, keeping the tradition alive of a top ten ranking since the ranking system was established in 1998.

The Bruins welcome the first two Olympic gold medalists ever to compete in NCAA Gymnastics – Kyla Ross (2012 team gold) and Madison Kocian (2016 team gold and uneven bars silver). This is a major milestone for women’s gymnastics on a national level and a testament to the tradition of excellence of the UCLA women’s gymnastics program, which has been under the direction of Head Coach Valerie Kondos Field since 1991.

Key departures for the Bruins include Danusia Francis, Sophina DeJesus, and Sadiqua Bynum. Francis was the 2016 NCAA balance beam co-champion with a score of 9.95, and finished her career having hit 133 of 135 routines in team competition, including 74 consecutive. DeJesus earned second-team All-American honors on uneven bars at the NCAA Championships, finishing eighth in the second semifinal with a 9.875. Bynum was First-team All-Pac-12 on vault and floor and the NCAA Regional Floor co-champion with a 9.95. She was ranked No. 1 in the nation on floor for two weeks during the season and finished the regular season ranked No. 7. She ended up finishing her career having hit 58 routines in a row.

The Bruins return seniors Angi Cipra (All-American), Mikaela Gerber, Christine Peng-Peng Lee (All-American), and Hallie Mossett. Cipra earned second-team Regular Season All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 on floor, while Lee was a Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention. She missed five meets due to a knee injury and returned to the lineup at NCAA Regionals, winning uneven bars with a career-high-tying 9.95. Gerber scored 9.8 or higher on 10 of her last 11 leadoff beam routines, including two scores of 9.9 or higher. She scored 9.875 as the beam leadoff at the NCAA Super Six, and led UCLA to a 49.575 beam score at Pac-12 Championships with a leadoff score of 9.9. Mossett ranked in the Top 11 in the nation on floor for six weeks at the beginning of the season, but suffered a fractured sternum on February 13 and didn’t return to competition until the NCAA semifinals. Juniors Rechelle Dennis, Napualani Hall, JaNay Honest, and Sonya Meraz round out the upperclassmen that placed fifth in the NCAA Championships. Hall was one of just two Bruins who competed a 10.0-start value vault and scored a career-high 9.9 on vault twice, at Arizona to earn her first career event victory and at Florida to place third. Honest was the Pac-12 uneven bars co-champion with a 9.9 at Pac-12 Championships. She hit all 36 routines during the season, with 29 scores of 9.8 or better. At this point she has hit 48 consecutive routines without a fall and is 51-for-52 in her career. Meraz led the team in 2016 with 42 routines completed and contributed the most points to the team scoring with 409.6875 total points (12.49%). Dennis was forced out of action on March 6 of last year due to an ankle sprain, but before that had recorded a career-best 9.85 to place third on bars vs. ASU.

No. 17 Arkansas went 12-12 in 2016, including 4-3 in league action, placing sixth at the SEC Championship and finishing third at the NCAA Iowa City Regional. They finished the season ranked No. 20 in the nation, and the season was highlighted by top-10 wins over No. 4 Alabama and No. 9 Auburn in back-to-back weeks. According to the University of Arkansas website and head coach Mark Cook, “We’re going to start off the season a little slow this year and then try to build some momentum. We had a lot of nagging injuries in the preseason, but that’s part of sports. Overall, all of the gymnasts are stepping up, and they’re doing a good job. Now, the season begins.” The Razorbacks return eight members from last year’s squad and among those returners are trio of seniors who have each earned All-SEC honors: Heather Elswick, Samantha Nelson and Amanda Wellick. Wellick is also a two-time All-American and qualified for the NCAA Championships as an individual in 2014 and 2016. The eight returners are joined by a talented group of five freshmen in Michaela Burton, Hailey Garner, Kirby Rathjen, Sarah Shaffer and Jessica Yamzon.

UCLA will have every regular season gymnastics meet televised in 2017, including eight on Pac-12 Network, one on ESPNU and another on Fox Sports Network. You can watch this Saturday’s meet on the Pac-12 Network.

#4 UCLA Gymnastics (0-0)

Opponent: #17 Arkansas Razorbacks (0-0)

When: Saturday, January 7, 2017, 4:00pm PT

Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA

TV: Pac-12 Network Los Angeles

Rebroadcast: Pac-12 Network National, Saturday, January 7, 2017, 9:30pm PT

Stream: and the Pac-12 Now app

Official Meet Preview

Go Bruins!