April 21, 2018 was an absolutely amazing day. With a clutch performance by 6th year senior Christine Peng Peng Lee on the Beam, the UCLA gymnastics team brought home their 7th national championship and the 115th championship for the university. Needing at least a 9.9625 to bring home the win, Lee scored a “Perfect 10” in a storybook ending to the 2018 season. In the previous rotation, she had also scored a “Perfect 10” on the Bars during a near perfect performance by the entire Bars team that resulted in the highest score UCLA had ever received in that event.
In case you missed it, here is Lee’s beam performance, courtesy of NastiaFan101take8:
And, just because this floor routine should never be forgotten, here is co-national champion Katelyn Ohashi’s epic performance to the crowd-pumping Michael Jackson mash-up. Thanks to Mariah for the video:
It has been estimated that this routine has received over 100 million hits online. She performed it for “the last time on Earth” at the Meet the Bruins intrasquad meet on December 9.
This Friday, the gymnastics team will officially begin their last season with head coach Valorie Kondos Field. After 28 years and seven national championships and, arguably, the most successful coaching career since John Wooden, Miss Val has decided this season will be her last. She is an example of what it means to coach, having no formal gymnastics experience and beginning her career with the program playing the piano for the floor exercise. She has a passion for the women she coaches and an unparalleled ability to inspire everyone she meets. When you walk into Yates Gym, you are treated as one of the Bruin family, no matter who you are.
Going into the 2019 season, who are the key losses for the Bruins this year, and who are the newcomers? Who is coming back to possibly lead the team to national championship #8?
It goes without saying that Lee is a force of nature that will leave a void on the squad this year. Her beam routine that clinched the national championship actually received a “Perfect 10” five times last season and she earned a “Perfect 10” on the uneven bars twice. Her skill is not the only thing that Bruins will miss. Her kind demeanor, dedication to her sport, and love of her teammates emanated through to the fans and will certainly be missed this year. An usher at Pauley Pavilion once said that it takes Peng an hour to leave the venue because she’s like the mayor and has to say goodbye to every employee in the place.
CBS Sports did a feature on Lee and the obstacles she faced on her journey before she ever got to UCLA. The seven major injuries she dealt with during her career were never enough to keep this fierce competitor down.
Thank you, CBS Sports, for this video.
JaNay Honest is another key loss for the Bruins in the 2018 senior class. Her story was a little different in that she actually got a later start to her competitive career and began her collegiate years at UCLA as a walk on. She finally received a scholarship as a senior, and credits her mental toughness to her three years as a walk on. She recorded a season-high 9.9375 on the Uneven Bars at the national championships and, in total, she competed in 43 consecutive meets by the end of her UCLA career. Honest was the 2016 Pac-12 Uneven Bars Co-Champion.
Napualani Hall, a Vault specialist for the Bruins, earned Second-Team All-American on Vault and was also First-Team All-Pac-12. She competed for the Bruins in the National Championships and recorded the team’s second-highest vault score at the NCAA Super Six (9.875) on day one. Her highest recorded score was a 9.975 on March 13 at Senior Night against San Jose State and she ended the year with three wins on vault and one on the Floor exercise.
Rechelle Dennis and Sonya Meraz were also 2018 graduates. Dennis was unable to compete in 2018 due to a torn achilles in preseason training. Meraz hit a season-high 9.9 on both Bars and Floor during the Bruins’ victory over San Jose State on March 13.
It would be really easy to just say “everyone else” in this section because the rest of the team is so skilled and is their own piece to the UCLA puzzle. It goes without saying that UCLA is still the only team to have two former Olympians on the same team in juniors Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian and it’s pretty safe to say the entire world is waiting to see what Floor routine senior Katelyn Ohashi is going to unveil at the meet on Friday. Ross is a solid All-Around performer and is capable of perfection in every event. Kocian spent most of last season recovering from shoulder surgery but, by season’s end, was competing in Uneven Bars, Floor, and Beam. She appeared to be nursing a knee injury at the Meet the Bruins instrasquad meet on December 9 and it’s unknown if that will prevent her from competing at the highest level this season. Ohashi is another capable performer in every event, with her specialty emerging on the Floor after last year’s championship worthy performance.
Additionally, twins Anna and Grace Glenn will be back, as well as Felicia Hano and Gracie Kramer, who both had solid Floor rotations last year. Pauline Tratz was also an integral part of the Bruin dance party as well as a contributor on Vault.
Lastly, look out for Savannah Kooyman on the Beam. After watching her in practice, she could easily fill the void left by Peng in this event.
UCLA adds four freshmen to the team this year, Norah Flatley, Margzetta Frazier, Sara Taubman, and Sekai Wright. Born in San Diego but hailing from Iowa, Flatley is a two-time U.S. National Team member. She also won two gold medals at the 2014 Pacific Rim Championships in the Balance Beam and team events.
Frazier represented UCLA at the 2018 USA Championships and placed 13th in the all-around and 10th on floor and was also a 2017-18 U.S. National Team member. She was the silver medalist in the All-Around and bronze medalist on the Uneven Bars at the 2018 Birmingham World Cup and was the American Cup and Pan American Games alternate in 2018.
Taubman has an interesting history, as she was born in Tokyo but comes to UCLA from Fairfax in Marin County. Both her parents and grandparents met at UCLA. She is a three-time Level 10 regional qualifier and earned a fourth place finish on the Uneven Bars at the 2018 Level 10 Regional Championships.
Finally, Wright is a three-time Level 10 national vault champion, and she was also the All-Around and Vault champion and Floor runner-up at the 2018 State Championships. She is a local girl from Paramount and has won the Junior Olympics vault championship three times.
Depth is going to be key for UCLA this year. Of the 20 team members, a dozen are upperclassmen and nine have experience on the national stage. The experiences from performing at the NCAA Championships last spring are something they will carry with them into this season that they can share with the rest of the team as this year’s team will look to make Miss Val proud and become the exclamation point on a rather exceptional career.