Last year I had the absolute privilege of live blogging the Utah-UCLA dual, which I firmly believe was the best meet of the 2020 season despite the fact that my fire alarm was going off for the full first rotation. (No, I didn’t go outside. Look, I live in a 30-floor apartment building, and they don’t re-enable the elevators for about half an hour after a fire alarm. I’d rather take my chances than have to walk all the way back up.) While this year’s matchup is unlikely to be nearly as thrilling, hopefully my ears will suffer less.
UCLA has not been in sparkling form so far in 2021, and frankly I really don’t care. We knew that this was going to be a tough year, and the deferrals of key freshmen like Ana Padurariu mean that it’s really not a fair fight for the Bruins. Usually when a team takes a sudden dive down the rankings, there’s something worth being worried about. UCLA is just making do until the relief forces arrive, and that’s fine. The experience the freshmen gain will pay dividends in the future. On a fully populated roster, new fan favorite Sara Ulias might never have gotten a shot at the bar lineup, and look how thankful everyone is that she did.
Speaking of that bar lineup… Now that Nia Dennis and Kalyany Steele have rejoined after injury, it’s suddenly quite competitive. I don’t expect to see much more of Sara Taubman or Pauline Tratz, unless Chris Waller has serious reason to doubt any of the bigger hitters, but there is a question of which two of the Steele-Ulias-Savannah Kooyman triad stays in. Personally I’d relegate Kooyman to the alternate spot and let the two technically superior bars gymnasts gain confidence and work up to higher scores, but there’s probably a reason I don’t have Waller’s job.
Meanwhile, Utah has been technically lovely and a model of consistency, but it’s time for the Utes to crack the 197.500 mark. While this team is currently ranked No. 3 based on the fact that it was in near-postseason shape in January, four teams (Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, Michigan) now have higher season highs, and while anything can happen on nationals semifinal day, one has to imagine that Utah would REALLY like to stay within the presumptive top four. Bars landings are one obvious place that the Utes can tighten up in the second half of the season. Now that the beam lineup has kicked into high gear once, with a 49.575 three weeks ago, I feel confident that it can happen again, while vault has some technical issues but has showed great stickability lately.
The other thing to note is that Utah is coming off a bye week. If recent performances by Auburn and Michigan are anything to go by, that could mean it’s poised for a breakthrough.
Rotation 1: Utah VT, UCLA UB
Thrilled to report Chris Waller has taken my advice on the bars lineup. We’ll see if I look stupid.
Isa (UU): FTY, not massive but flared with a little hop back. 9.825
Campbell (UCLA): Slightly shy on the first handstand, Maloney with leg separation to clean bail. Another slightly shy handstand, double front with a step back. 9.775
O’Keefe (UU): Leg separation on the table on her FTY, flung out and nearly stuck, one foot shift. 9.8
Steele (UCLA): Slightly short on the first handstand, Maloney to Pak cleaner than Campbell’s flight combo but still with little stuff to take. Whippy double lay with a hop back. 9.75
Stanhope (UU): Solid one and a half, medium step forward. Looks a little flat in replay but good distance.
Ulias (UCLA): Toe blind to Jaeger is lovely, slightly short on the bail but it’s like ten degrees, stalder gorgeous to double back, shaky but holds the stick. That must feel amazing. She’s really such a technically extraordinary gymnast but it would have been easy for UCLA to give up on her after a shaky opening weekend of her NCAA career. The coaches’ faith in her will pay. 9.875
Hall (UU): Flung out and short on her one and a half, her usual messy form plus a major cross step back, her chest was never over her feet. 9.625
Esparza (UCLA): Maloney to Pak stunning, nailing the handstands, van Leeuwen great, double layout deep with an arm swing but holds the stick. 9.8
Burch (UU): Leg separation on the table and a bit of form, dead stick with feet quite far apart. Who knows where that will go. 9.975
Dennis (UCLA): Sharp on the first handstand, Maloney to bail great, this is a lot sharper than last week. Double lay pretty and stuck. Rust = off. 9.9
Rucker (UU): Massive one and a half, it just flies especially compared to the rest of the lineup, big dive-step forward. Keeps it to just one, though. 9.825
Frazier (UCLA): Shy on the first handstand, Maloney to Pak good, missed her feet on a toe on and casts again, van Leeuwen. Misses a handstand a touch, double lay with a hop. 9.75
After 1: Utah 49.300, UCLA 49.100
Not the sharpest start for either team but a lot to be proud of. Sara Ulias’ breakthrough is one I’m going to remember for a long time.
Rotation 2: UCLA VT, Utah UB
Tratz (UCLA): Her usual FTY with a little hop back. A workhorse vault if not a remarkable one. 9.825
Paulson (UU): Shy on the first handstand, Maloney to Pak with little form flickers, blind full double back with a little foot shift. 9.775
Poston (UCLA): Front pike 1/2, surprisingly big with a hop back. Much cleaner in the half twist than I’m used to seeing from her. 9.825
Sabado (UU): Blind to Jaeger, messy legs on the catch, bail to toe shoot very powerful. Feet on her DLO and a hop back. 9.825
Frazier (UCLA): FTY, less pikey than we’ve seen before though still odd dynamics and a small hop. 9.875
Burch (UU): Late hop change, didn’t get her legs together until well over the bar, feet on her Jaeger. OK bail, double lay deep with a big hop. 9.825
Dennis (UCLA): Huge and flared FTY, her usual, stuck. It was a bit off balance as she saluted and ran away, probably not a deductionless landing. 9.8 is harsh though.
O’Keefe (UU): Maloney to Pak, clean, arches her back on a slow low bar half pirouette. Double arabian dismount with a hop back. 9.875
Campbell (UCLA): Big FTY, more distance than Dennis with a step back. 9.85
LeBlanc (UU): Missed the first handstand, late blind to Jaeger to overshoot powerful but with flexed feet throughout. Double lay pretty with a step back.
UCLA scratched Andres in the anchor. Wright should be back soon, but until then this is a pain spot.
Isa (UU): Got the Ray, bail to toe shoot, blind 1/1 double lay stuck. Super clean, just giving a little away on imprecise straight-body cast handstands. 9.875
After 2: Utah 98.525, UCLA 98.275
Both teams have their scrappy events out of the way now, so there’s room to have a bit more fun.
Rotation 3: Utah BB, UCLA FX
Burch (UU): BHS LOSO messy but landed clean, check on her leap series, front aerial steady. Gainer full. 9.85
Andres (UCLA): Two and a half front tuck, super high. Double back, really well landed, switch half Popa iffy on both splits and rotation. 9.825
Stanhope (UU): This routine is weird. Switch mount to switch, iffy splits, Kochetkova BHS really steady. Full turn, round off one and a half with a step forward. 9.775
Wright (UCLA): Two and a half, BIG step, Rudi to split. Great rotation on her leaps, an actually stuck leap series is one of the most impressive things to me on floor, one and a half front lay great. 9.875
Randall (UU): Full turn, BHS LOSO with a tiny lean, beat to sheep with the usual knees apart. Slightly weird moment on choreography, sissone, Rulfova off line and leans but hangs onto the beam. One and a half twist stuck. 9.85
Tratz (UCLA): Super control on the double pike, switch ring tour jete half a little deep. Slight stumble out of her one and a half front lay into the dance segment, has to pull hard on her double back but controls it really well again. 9.9
Isa (UU): Candle mount, cartwheel to knees, BHS LOSO LOSO with a lean and arm swing. Straddle straddle 1/4 great, BHS gainer full pretty much stuck. 9.875… it’s a no from me.
Frazier (UCLA): Front thru double back, leg sep in the BHS but that’s not an actual NCAA deduction so hey. The voguing bit is great, little rebound on her double pike, just didn’t absorb it very well. Tour jete half split full Popa, I think that was? Not her best but very solid. 9.85
O’Keefe (UU): Side aerial LOSO great, switch split. Full turn, a little odd but not actually a check, cat leap side aerial back full with a lean forward. 9.9
Campbell (UCLA): Front double full, slight stumble, tour jete half Popa. Double back with great control. 9.95 is a little generous but it balances out the Isa score.
Paulson (UU): Side aerial LOSO, misses a foot and falls. Wow. Side aerial back full good, she looks upset. 9.225
Dennis (UCLA): Front lay to double back, runs OOB. Front full front lay is gorgeous, little hop, chaotic rotation on her leaps. Rudi to split is good. 9.725
After 3: Utah 147.775, UCLA 147.675
This is way closer than anyone really expected. UCLA beam is a nontrivial hurdle but credit to the Bruins for putting together the big meet (for the most part) when it counted.
Nia Dennis has been pulled from the UCLA beam lineup, she looked a bit out of sorts after floor.
Rotation 4: UCLA BB, Utah FX
Poston (UCLA): Straight on on her triple series, the knees looked a touch better than her usual. One and a half twist stick. Team is screaming already. 9.875
Gilstrap (UU): Double back, front lay to Rudi pretty good. At least I think those were the passes, I was distracted by laughing my ass off at violin Despacito as per usual. Front lay front full solid. 9.875
Sakti (UCLA): May have had a check on choreography. GOT THE LOSO LOSO. Switch split, full turn, side somi solid, Chris is crouching on the landing mat, side aerial back full stuck. Fire. 9.9
Paulson (UU): Front lay front full stag leap, good landing on the second pass I forgot to ID. Switch full is solid, always impressed with that leap, one and a half front lay. 9.9
Frazier (UCLA): Switch switch, can’t really see the positions from the front angle but it was at least pretty close, front aerial back tuck with a tiny adjustment. Side aerial, gainer front full with a little hop. 9.925
Stanhope (UU): Full in, messy legs and an extra step. Double back well controlled, good leaps, one and a half front lay bouncy. 9.875
Shapiro (UCLA): BHS BHS LOSO, bend check and an arm swing, switch switch. Mini arabesque turn is pretty, side aerial good. Side aerial gainer full on her toes a bit but stuck. 9.725… it was the same kind of check as Isa.
Rucker (UU): Half in half out, good landing. Her goal on floor is apparently to perform like it’s halftime of the Super Bowl………? Front lay front full a little archy and awkward. Not much to complain about in that one, though. 9.875 I don’t agree with that being the same as Stanhope. I thought she was substantially cleaner.
Esparza (UCLA): Full turn, a bit off, BHS LOSO good. Switch straddle quarter, front aerial to beat was WAY on one side of the beam but she kept it moving. Side aerial back full stuck. A lot of adjusting and making it work. 9.875
O’Keefe (UU): Double pike, overrotated with a scoot back. Front lay front full with a longer lunge, quite deep. Switch tour jete full, had to step it around a little but it’s probably good enough for the judges, one and a half front tuck… likely missed the punch there, I expect it was meant to be a layout. 9.75
Campbell (UCLA): Aggressive choice for the anchor but she’s been super resilient. BHS LOSO with a minor check, dances out. Great switch half, switch split, gainer full stuck. 9.85
Soloski (UU): Needs a 9.825 to win. Double lay, the usual second salto arch, switch half split full. Front lay front full, great, one and a half front lay is just huge. She’s won it.
FINAL: Utah 197.225, UCLA 197.100
That was a lot of fun! The Bruins should be thrilled about cracking 197.000 for the first time and pulling it together for the big one. If Dennis had been able to do beam, this could have been even closer. Hoping that whatever took Dennis out of the arena after floor is short-term.
Utah can’t complain about a win here, but the Utes are going to have to kick into high gear soon if they want to make the final four. Six other teams have outscored Utah just tonight, including in-state not-really-rival Southern Utah. In a vacuum that’s not a disaster, but I’m still waiting for the performance that proves that Utah is a major postseason contender.
VT: Alexia Burch (UU) 9.975
UB: Nia Dennis (UCLA) 9.900
BB: Margzetta Frazier (UCLA) 9.925
FX: Chae Campbell (UCLA) 9.950
AA: Chae Cambell (UCLA) 39.425
Live blog by Rebecca Scally
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