To quote Jack Buck, “I don’t believe what I just saw.”
The UCLA Gymnastics team has won the school’s 115th NCAA title and the program’s 7th national championship.
But, it didn’t look like it was going to be possible.
The meet didn’t start well for the Bruins. On the Floor Exercise, UCLA scored a 49.4625. It was an alright start, but it featured an uncharacteristic fall by Kyla Ross during her routine that kept UCLA from scoring higher. In fact, only two Bruins, Felicia Hano and Katelyn Ohashi, scored better than a 9.8875. Hano earned a 9.90 for her routine and Ohashi scored a 9.95.
From there, things got a little bit worse for the Bruins as the team moved to the Vault. UCLA only scored a 49.2250 here and only two Bruins, Anna Glenn and Napualani Hall, scored better than a 9.8375. Glenn was UCLA’s high scorer on the event with a 9.8875 while Hall wrapped up the event for the Bruins with a 9.875.
As a result, midway through the competition, UCLA was in fourth place behind Oklahoma, Florida and LSU. The Sooners led with a score of 99.0125 while UCLA trailed by 0.3250 with a score of 98.6875.
Things weren’t looking good for the Bruins, but UCLA had their two best events in front of them — the Uneven Bars and the Balance Beam. If the Bruins were going to win, they needed to start scoring 9.9s or better.
And, amazingly, that’s exactly what happened.
The Bruins had a bye for the fourth rotation and I don’t know what Miss Val told the team at that point, if she said anything, but, if she did, it worked.
After Nia Dennis led off on the bars with a 9.8375, JaNay Honest followed with a 9.90. Her routine seemed nearly flawless but four of the judges gave her 9.9s while one gave her a 10 and another a 9.85.
Anna Glenn was up next and she managed to outscore Dennis with a 9.85 and, with Kocian, Lee, and Ross still due up, UCLA would likely be able to drop Dennis’ score.
Then came the three Bruin heavyweights. Kocian set the tone for the rest of the event with a 9.9375. But, no one knew how magical things were about to get.
Christine Peng-Peng Lee, the sixth-year senior, followed Kocian with an absolutely flawless routine. How flawless? Well, it received a Perfect 10 score from five of the six judges. It was THAT good!
Kyla Ross had the unenviably job of following Lee, meaning that the judges likely were critiquing her performance with the flawlessness of Lee’s still fresh in their minds. Despite that, Ross managed to pull a 9.95 and the Bruins were still alive.
After that fifth rotation, UCLA had almost cut Oklahoma’s lead in half from 0.3250 points to just 0.1750 points. Yet, it still could have seemed like a mountain for these ladies to climb.
Gracie Glenn led off and got UCLA off on the right foot with a 9.9375. Madison Kocian followed with an uncharacteristic 9.2750. Brielle Nguyen was the Bruins’ third competitor for the event and she earned a 9.875. While UCLA could have used a higher score from Nguyen, it set the stage for one of the most remarkable comebacks ever.
Katelyn Ohashi was fourth. She did exactly what was needed and she was rewarded for it with a 9.95. Kyla Ross stepped it up even more with a 9.95 from two judges and a 10 from four of them, earning her a 9.9875.
By this point, Oklahoma had already finished their last event and their final score was in. It was a 198.0375.
The last time UCLA saw Oklahoma, the meet came down to the final few gymnasts and it wasn’t going to be any different today. UCLA had scored 198 or better only twice all season in fourteen meets. On Super Bowl Sunday, they fell 1/10th of a point short of beating the Sooners.
Today, they needed their final gymnast Christine Peng-Peng Lee to score at least a 9.9750 for the Bruins to win their 115th national championship.
What did the sixth-year senior do?
Another Perfect Ten.
On back-to-back events.
And, UCLA, which had been in fourth place at the midway point of a competition featuring six teams had accomplished what seemed to be impossible. How impossible?
Before the final rotation, UCLA Coach Valerie Kondos-Field told ESPN, “I just want to say that it’s really good that I have zero affinity for math because, in my mind, we can still win this thing. So, we’re going to go kick some butt on beam.”
And they did!
UCLA Gymnastics is your 2018 NCAA Champions!!!