UCLA gymnastics unified for home opener against Oregon State
First-year head UCLA gymnastics coach Janelle McDonald has a printed-out graphic tacked to her office bulletin board – a word cloud in the shape of a Bruin bear head.
Before the start of the season, McDonald asked each gymnast to think of a word that describes what they want the team to be in a year. “Hardworking,” “respectful,” “fun” and “inclusive” are some of the biggest words on the bear.
Three meets into the regular season, it appears the team is sticking to those words. McDonald’s fresh attitude and emphasis on team bonding outside of the gym has created a unified group that’s eager for Sunday’s home opener against Oregon State at Pauley Pavilion.
“Altogether, our common goal is to be the best that we can and put in the best effort that we can every single day at practice,” senior Margzetta Frazier said. “So we all have to be bought in to winning and have the team be better with the small stuff. We’re all on the same page.”
No. 6 UCLA is ready to compete, despite the exhausting travel to Las Vegas, Utah and Washington for the last three meets.
“Everyone is just on a high,” sophomore Emma Malabuyo said. “We were acting a little bit crazy today. Very energetic and I think we just can’t wait to just be out there on the floor.”
UCLA is coming off a 196.900-195.825 win over Washington and, a week prior to that, the Bruins came in first at the Wasatch Classic against Minnesota, Boise State and Washington.
Freshman Selena Harris, the No. 1-ranked recruit in her class, won the all-around in both meets and Jordan Chiles won first in uneven bars and tied for first in floor against Washington.
The Bruins’ score against Washington was their lowest of the season. McDonald and the coaching staff are tweaking lineups as necessary, since small injuries and illness have affected who is ready to compete on a daily basis.
“The goal is for as many people as possible to be ready to compete,” McDonald said. “And so then as a coaching staff, decide who’s ready to go that day and to give us the best chance of success.”
Malabuyo, who scored a 10.0 on balance beam last season, could give UCLA a boost this week. The 2020 Olympic Team alternate is fighting off a cold and bouncing back from a 9.775 score on beam last week against the Huskies.
The Bruins have gone three meets without a fall on beam, but scored under 49 as a team for the first time all season in the Washington meet.
“It’s good. Like, ‘OK, we had like our not-so-good meet last week,’” Malabuyo said. “And let’s just leave that. Now we’re focusing on, ‘OK, we’re in Pauley, we’re gonna feel good.’ We have extra rest, it’s gonna be a longer week. So I think (we’re) just leaving that behind.”
The UCLA women’s soccer team, which won an NCAA championship in early December, will be in attendance for Sunday’s meet and had already learned some of the gymnasts’ floor routine choreography. It’s dubbed “denography,” as a combination of “choreography” and the Bruin “den” student section.
Sunday is also the UCLA’s Equity Meet, which the program uses to promote diversity and inclusion of all forms within gymnastics and beyond. The gymnasts will be wearing rainbow-colored leotards in honor of the meet.
The meet calls for unity, which the Bruins have plenty of within themselves. Now, they’ll get to show it off for the home crowd.
“I’m really proud, I’m really excited, I’m really happy,” Frazier said. “And I’m not surprised at all, I knew we were going to be great, we just need to keep believing that we’re great.”
UCLA (1-0) vs. Oregon State (1-0)
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pauley Pavilion
TV: Pac-12 Networks