I used to call this program “Westwood’s Best Kept Secret”, but seeing as the UCLA Women’s Gymnastics team – the only college gymnastics team in Southern California – has the best attendance of all the Bruin sports save for football and men’s basketball, I can’t in all honesty call them a secret anymore.
Having begun their 40th season with a solid win over Southern Utah on Sunday at Pauley Pavilion, these ladies are defending Pac-12 Conference champions, are currently 2nd ranked in the country after finishing third in the NCAA championships last year and – provided that they can overcome the loss of 2011 NCAA balance beam champion Samantha Peszek, who tore her Achilles tendon in December – are positioned to win their 7th national championship and first since 2010.
Led by coach Valorie Kondos Field, who is in her 23rd year at UCLA, the Bruins, as usual, are loaded and deep.
Although there are at least ten gymnasts that UCLA will be counting on, Vanessa Zamarippa and Olivia Courtney are the headliners as Courtney is a five-time All-American and the reigning Pac-12 Vault champion, while Zamarippa couldn’t have started her senior season better in winning the all-around against Southern Utah at Pauley with a score of 39.475 out of 40, using a 9.975 on the floor exercise as an exclamation point and earning the Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week award for her efforts.
Mattie Larson, Lichelle Wong, Sydney Sawa, Monique DeLaTorre, Alyssa Pritchett, and Kaelie Baer are the UCLA veterans that will be counted on to have great seasons.
Larson is a dynamic performer who was on the U.S. National team for three years, while Wong has returned after an injury stopped the season of her life in 2012, where she posted career best scores on all four apparatuses: the balance beam, the vault, the uneven parallel bars and the floor.
Sawa is likewise returning from injury after having a great year in 2011, earning second team All-American honors, while DeLaTorre and Baer provide senior leadership and top-notch performances, DeLaTorre scoring a 9,95 on bars against Arizona State last year and Baer providing solid and consistent all-around routines. Pritchett, a floor specialist who was a second team all-Pac-12 in that event in 2012, will be much needed to post scores of at least 9.8 (out of 10) or better in that event.
As always, Kondos Field has signed a stellar freshman class that she always counts on and who Bruin Nation will see much of, two out of the three newbies having already made their collegiate debuts.
Danusia Francis, a reserve for the British Olympic team in the 2012 London Games, was a two-time beam champion and will be one of the Bruins given the job of filling the void left by Peszek’s injury, while Sophina DeJesus won the Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Week due to her scoring a 9.8 or better on three events against Southern Utah. Christine Peng Peng Lee would have been in the London Olympics for Canada if it weren’t for her torn ACL that has kept her out of action. Lee was so highly regarded that the team made her their captain and she got to go to London anyway; that’s how highly regarded she is.
On top of everything else, going to a UCLA gymnastics meet is a lot of fun – I should know, having been a regular attendee for the past ten years. The costs are minimal, with general admission seats going for just $8.00 and season ticket packages being a mere $40.00, and the energy and spirit that the Bruin gymnasts show can’t be topped.
You can see for yourself on Saturday, January 12 at Pauley Pavilion, when these ladies take on the Utah Utes, a longtime rival who joined the Pac-12 last year and has won the most NCAA titles – ten – in the sport. Combined with UCLA’s six, including a stretch where they won four in a five-year period from 2000-2004, that’s a total of 16 national championships won that will be at Pauley on Saturday.
The meet begins at 7:30 p.m., and not only is a big crowd expected, it will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
I highly recommend that you check out these athletes at a meet, as after the Utah meet these Bruins will be at Pauley on February 10 as well as March 10 and 17. Plus the 2013 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships will be held at Pauley on April 19, 20, and 21, and UCLA is expected to be one of the teams going for a title.
Trust me when I say that a good time will be had if you choose to go see these Bruin gymnasts.
As an illustration of what I’m saying, here’s a link to a video clip of the team from UCLABruins.com and YouTube: