The UCLA gymnastics team has just two more dual meets at Pauley Pavilion left on its schedule before the Pac-12 Championships on March 18. The focus now is on preserving healthy bodies and managing gymnasts’ abilities so that they peak at the right time.
Sunday’s meet against No. 21 Stanford brings a little levity to a serious time of year. The fifth-ranked Bruins will celebrate Title IX this weekend and host a bevy of alumni gymnasts.
“It’s the reason we get to be here doing what we love to do,” Coach Janelle McDonald said. “And just to be able to celebrate all the amazing women that came before us is something that I’m really excited to do this weekend.”
The Bruins (6-4-2 overall, 3-1-2 in Pac-12) have plenty of reasons to show off in front of their alumni. They recorded a 197.900 in their win at Arizona last week and tied a season-best score in vault, an event they had previously struggled with.
Emily Lee posted a career-high score of 9.875 in the event and Jordan Chiles had a career-high 9.975.
“Our vaults are looking more dynamic,” McDonald said. “Body shapes are better in the air, landings are coming in. So we were really excited to see that improvement last weekend in Arizona.”
Chiles won all four events to win the all-around title, scoring a career-high 39.850. She’s now tied with Florida’s Trinity Thomas for the second-highest all-around score of the season nationally and trails Oregon State’s Jade Carey, who leads everyone with a 39.875.
Chiles was the only Bruin to compete in the all-around last week after freshman Selena Harris asked not to compete in floor exercise because of an irritated hip.
“Floor is the easiest place to say like, I don’t really feel 100%, because a lot of people on our team are ready to do floor,” Harris said. “I had trust that my other teammates, any of them could go in and do floor for me.”
McDonald said she plans to have Harris back in the all-around this weekend along with Chiles. There might be others, but the coach hadn’t settled the lineups yet at the time of media availability on Wednesday.
Floor exercise continues to be UCLA’s strongest event this season. The Bruins’ average event score of 49.541 ranks second in the country and will give them an edge against Stanford this weekend.
The Cardinal (8-5, 3-3) lost to Oregon State last weekend but had the program’s best score in its home venue since 2004 at 197.575. Freshman Anna Roberts set or matched career-high scores in every event in her previous two meets to earn Pac-12 Newcomer of the Week honors.
As UCLA’s regular season inches toward its conclusion, McDonald has been creating individualized plans for each gymnast to make sure each of them feels confident and healthy after a season of competing every weekend.
“Every single assignment they have is about being intentional,” McDonald said. “Not overdoing anything, but be intentional about what you’re doing and really get those details dialed in.”
There are three days of hard practice during the week. Events like vault and floor which can have hard landings and are tough on the body’s joints are alternated more frequently to keep the gymnasts ready to perform.
Having some decorated alumni cheering in the crowd can only increase the energy inside Pauley Pavilion, which has seen two other themed dual meets this season with the Blue Out and the Equity Meet, which promoted diversity and inclusion.
“I love it,” Harris said. “I like how we’re able to bring awareness to all these things and just feel empowered when we are competing. We are warming up and everyone sees, the little girls see that you can do anything.”
UCLA (6-4-2, 3-1-2) vs. STANFORD (8-5, 3-3) When: Sunday, noon
Where: Pauley Pavilion
TV: Pac-12 Network
Haley Sawyer | Correspondent Haley covers UCLA and prep sports for SCNG. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who has lived most of her life in Pennsylvania, where she got her start covering Pittsburgh prep sports and college hockey. Now, you can find her soaking up the SoCal weather on a hike, sweating it out at the boxing gym or teaching journalism courses at College of the Canyons.