We’ve been waiting a long time for this one, folks! Few teams were impacted by the Olympic postponement as much as UCLA, but tonight members of College Gym News’s No. 1 signing class will finally make their Bruin debuts. All eyes will be on U.S. Olympian Jordan Chiles, who joined the team less than a week ago, but she’s far from the only big name freshman. U.S. alternate Emma Malabuyo has looked strong in preseason training, and fellow National Team member Emily Lee is steadily improving after an Achilles tear at Olympic Trials. Two Canadian stars have made their way to Westwood as well: Olympian/emotive queen Brooklyn Moors and world medalist Ana Padurariu, who is also coming back from injury. Add level 10 standouts Alexis Jeffrey and Mia Erdoes to the mix, and you’ve got yourself an incredible core of talent and experience to draw from. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the rest of the team yet.
UCLA finished a respectable No. 12 in the final rankings of 2021 but didn’t quite have the huge scores top to bottom we’re used to seeing. Senior (it hurts to write that) Margzetta Frazier was a strong all around force and was the only Bruin to achieve a top 10 individual ranking with the No. 6 spot on bars. Sophomore Chae Campbell emerged as a gymnast to watch, qualifying to nationals as an individual all around competitor and winning fans over with her electric floor routine. With seven seniors and a freshman class for the ages, UCLA will hope to qualify a team to nationals once again.
If you’ve never tuned in to Meet the Bruins before, it has a bit of a unique format. The roster will be divided into two teams, Blue and Gold, and the teams will compete against each other across the four events. On each event, there will be a series of rounds where the gymnasts compete head to head. A panel of celebrity judges (looks like this year we have three current and former UCLA athletes: football player Qwuantrezz Knight, softball player Jen Schroeder and Ariana Berlin, who gym fans know as the subject of the cinematic masterpiece Full Out) will decide the winner of each round, and the team with the most points at the end is the winner. This one definitely isn’t about the numbers, but I’ll try to keep track of them for you nevertheless! You can also catch the meet on the Pac-12 Networks and its streaming platforms.
Here are the teams:
Blue Team: Emma Andres, Chae Campbell, Frida Esparza, Paige Hogan, Emma Malabuyo, Brooklyn Moors, Ana Padurariu, Samantha Sakti, Sara Taubman, Pauline Tratz, Sekai Wright
Gold Team: Jordan Chiles, Mia Erdoes, Norah Flatley, Margzetta Frazier, Alexis Jeffrey, Chloe Lashbrooke, Emily Lee, Katie McNamara, Kendal Poston, Kalyany Steele, Sara Ulias
This will be the first time UCLA has hosted fans since March of 2020, so expect big-time energy and a lot of questions to be answered (and raised). It’s also my first live blog, so thanks for joining me! I can’t wait to see what this 2022 squad can do.
Update 12/17 afternoon: I’ve been informed by UCLA athletic communications that freshmen Mia Erdoes and Emily Lee, juniors Emma Andres, Chloe Lashbrooke and Kalyany Steele, and senior Sekai Wright are recovering from injury and will likely not compete tonight. Wishing them well!
Last-minute lineup changes: Chae Campbell will not be competing tonight due to back soreness. Jordan Chiles will take her place on the blue team and Sara Taubman will be moving to the gold team. Additionally, Brooklyn Moors is recovering from an illness, so she will not compete.
Hooray, it’s starting!
Rotation 1: Vault
Vault was a good event for UCLA last season, although it lacked the difficulty of the very top teams. Seniors Sekai Wright and Kendal Poston are often highlights with their 10.0 start values, and Chae Campbell has been training a one and a half as well. With so many former elites coming in, I bet we’ll see a lot more difficulty tonight!
Injury Update: Wright is recovering from injury, as are Emma Andres and Chloe Lashbrooke, who have appeared in vault lineups during previous seasons. Campbell is resting a sore back, so she will not be competing on this or any other event tonight.
Tratz (Blue): Video started late, but looks like a Yurchenko full with nice flare and a small hop back.
Poston (Gold): Pike front half, chest a little down and a sizable hop back.
Round Winner: Tratz (Blue team)
Malabuyo (Blue): Nice Yurchenko full with a small hop back. Clean form. Hooray, an instant replay!
Jeffrey (Gold): High Yurchenko full with a bit of pike, small hop back.
Round Winner: Malabuyo (Blue team)
Chiles (Blue): Huge Yurchenko full with flare and a big hop back. You can tell she’s used to the double!
Frazier (Gold): Poses for the camera before starting (very important), Yurchenko full almost stuck, just a small slide back. Earns a dance.
Round Winner: Frazier (Gold team)
AFTER ONE: Blue Team 2, Gold Team 1
Definitely looks like early in the season here, and with just six vaulters competing, the Bruins are missing Campbell and Wright. Poston’s score will be counted on, and although the Yurchenko fulls we saw were well-performed, but they’d have to nail the landings like Marz every time if they want to post big vault totals. Here’s hoping UCLA gets some more depth back to allow this lineup to try some upgrades.
Rotation 2: Bars
UCLA has been a standout on bars for decades, and it’s great to see that most of its strongest routines from last season are expected to return. In addition to Frazier, sophomores Frida Esparza and Sara Ulias both put up strong scores. Junior Kalyany Steele was out with injury for much of 2021, but expect her to make a push for this lineup in 2022.
Injury Update: Steele is continuing her injury recovery, making it unlikely we’ll see her tonight.
Jeffrey (Gold): Beautiful handstand on the low bar, big Shaposh and pak salto, just floats between the bars and into the full-twisting double back dismount. Small hop back but that will be a big score when she sticks! The form is absolutely there.
Padurariu (Blue): Error on the Shaposh and hops off, recovers will with the bail, hits the handstand on the high bar, full pirouette into double tuck with a small hop forward.
Round Winner: Jeffrey (Gold team)
Taubman (Gold): Yaeger a bit messy, small leg separation in the bail, good final handstand, loose form and a small hop on the double layout, she’s very happy with that.
Chiles (Blue): Piked Tkatchev to immediate Pak salto, error on the low bar and does an extra sole circle to recover, perfect form on the full-twisting double back and a small hop.
Round Winner: Taubman (Gold team)
Flately (Gold): Huge Yaeger, tight form on giants and bail is perfectly landed, strong double layout with a step and a hop back.
Esparza (Blue): Debuting blue hair (extra tenth in my opinion), strong form on Shaposh and bail, good Shaposh half, big leg separation on double layout but sticks it cold.
Round Winner: Flatley (Gold team)
Frazier (Gold): Holds the opening handstand, floats the Shaposh and Shaposh half, great double layout and a small hop back to finish.
Malabuyo (Blue): Stalder Shaposh to start, beautiful Pak salto, stick straight double layout with a perfect landing.
Round Winner: Frazier (Gold team)
Flatley (Gold, Exhibition): Sky high Yaeger, nails the bail handstand, perfect final handstand, debuts a double layout and just about sticks it, small step forward. Her form on that double layout is incredible.
AFTER TWO: Blue Team 2, Gold Team 5
A bit perplexed by the Gold team sweeping that one, but overall UCLA looks much better on bars than the first event. They have a ton of options, and Malabuyo, Chiles, and Jeffrey will make great additions to the lineup. The fact they competed nine gymnasts without Campbell or Moors shows they have depth for days. Watch out for when they’re able to stick those landings.
Rotation 3: Beam
Everything is going to be fine, Bruin fans. There’s nothing at stake yet. Beam is notoriously inconsistent for UCLA, despite some very talented athletes in its lineup. The team’s No. 19 ranking was its lowest on any event last season, but seniors Norah Flatley and Samantha Sakti provided some bright spots. We’ve established by now that the freshmen will help tremendously on every event, but beam just might be where they make the most impact.
Padurariu (Blue): Candle mount, side aerial to bhs series no wobble, full turn with a smile, switch leap to sheep jump, doesn’t quite hit the position and has a significant wobble, side aerial full twist dismount small slide back.
Poston (Gold): Straddle three quarters done well but wouldn’t get connection bonus, fall on bhs bhs loso series, another fall on the one and a half dismount.
Round Winner: Padurariu (Blue team)
Esparza (Blue): Solid full turn to start, side aerial to bhs nailed, good flexibility on the split leap to straddle quarter, Ohashi flashbacks on the side aerial full twist dismount as beam endcap falls off. Oh my gosh they’re taping it back on. Anyway, she put her hands down on the dismount but that’s pretty amazing considering she missed an entire foot.
Jeffrey (Gold): Still not over the tape, but here we go. Starts off with a fluid mount and choreography, perfect bhs loso series, wobble on side aerial, small wobble on leaps but sticks the one and a half dismount. She was pretty sideways, but you couldn’t tell!
Round Winner: Jeffrey (Gold team)
Sakti (Blue): Switch leap into bhs loso series nailed, a small wobble on the leap connection but perfect full turn, nails the side aerial full twist dismount. The first great routine we’ve seen on this event tonight.
Frazier (Gold): Switch leap to straddle jump, hit well and no wobble, front aerial to back tuck, pauses on the connection and falls on the second skill, perfect full turn to recover, great side aerial no wobble, gainer front full dismount stuck.
Round Winner: Sakti (Blue team)
Chiles (Blue): Keeps the elite mount, bhs loso series nailed, switch leap connected to back tuck nailed, full turn and stays on toe at the end, not sure if that was choreographed? Oh my gosh she did a double pike dismount! Chest was low but stuck it! I’m fangirling.
McNamara (Gold): Full turn in a unique position, bhs loso series, a bit of form in the air but no wobble, side aerial to beat jump with a broken connection, another broken connection on switch leap, split leap, straddle quarter series, side aerial tucked full twist with a tiny step back.
Round Winner: Chiles (Blue team)
Malabuyo (Blue): Starts with a shimmy shake in her straddle mount, full turn in wolf position done well, fall on the bhs loso loso series, split jump to split ring, bhs to one and a half dismount with a big hop forward.
Flatley (Gold): Perfect front aerial to bhs loso series, great connection and stuck straight form, wobble on the switch ring, wobble on the full turn with the leg up but goes into immediate split leap, bhs to one and a half dismount stuck with a postseason salute. She’s not a senior she’s not a senior.
Round Winner: Flatley (Gold team)
AFTER THREE: Blue Team 5, Gold Team 7
There are some great potential scores to add on beam, with Chiles solid as a rock and Jeffrey making a great effort. Malabuyo fell tonight but she should be in the running as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any clearer picture of what the Bruins will put forward after watching that rotation.
Rotation 4: Floor
We know it. We love it. We wait all year for it. UCLA on floor is something special, and last season this was its highest ranked event. Volunteer coach and choreographer BJ Das has continued the tradition of eye-catching dance moves and bizarre routine themes, and she has a dream group of athletes to work with this year. Frazier and Campbell are show-stopping, and several of the newcomers are capable of matching them. It will be hard to replace a performer like Nia Dennis, but oh my goodness am I excited to see what they come up with next.
Injury Update: Emma Andres, Chloe Lashbrooke and Sekai Wright, all of whom have made floor lineups in the past, are recovering from injury. Campbell is out with a sore back, so we’ll have to save being amazed by her for a few more weeks.
McNamara (Gold): 80s themed routine, punch rudi to a sraddle jump, switch ring to tour jete half, one and a half to front layout second pass, I think that was supposed to be a switch ring half, but wasn’t quite hit. Good start though.
Esparza (Blue): Ooh is this flamenco? Starts with a punch front through to double back, great landing, double pike big step back with a step oob, sky high leaps, finishes with a one and a half I think she was supposed to connect to something. Doesn’t look happy with how it ended.
Round Winner: Esparza (Blue team)
Ulias (Gold): Music from LaLa Land and kind of a Broadway style. Punch front one and a half to start, strong leaps, back one and a half to front layout to finish. Strong routine.
Tratz (Blue): New floor routine this season, the music is weird and I’m all about it. Opens with a great full-twisting double back, tiny step that might have gone oob (no lines on the mat, come on UCLA!), huge one and a half to front layout with a great landing, hands down on the ending double back but that could be a huge score when she hits.
Round Winner: Ulias (Gold team)
Flatley (Gold): Opens with a triple twist! A bit messy in the air but landed well except for an oob. Front double twist second pass, lots of difficulty in this routine! Perfect switch ring and switch half, ends with a one and a half to front layout and steps out of bounds. Her dance is so crisp. I could watch her all day.
Malabuyo (Blue): Opens with a big double tuck, front foot slides back with the step, does a one and a half to front layout as a side pass, switch ring well hit, ends with a double pike, great control on landing. That’ll be a great addition to the lineup!
Round Winner: Malabuyo (Blue team)
Chiles (Blue, Exhibition): Last routine! It’s a variation of her Olympic routine. Front full through to double back to open, easily controls landing, sky high leaps, huge double pike with a small step back, finishes with a spider man pose. Yeah, they’re going to put that one in the lineup.
FINAL SCORES: Blue Team 7, Gold Team 8
Oh goodness, it’s an embarrassment of riches on this event. Chiles and Malabuyo need to be here – their tumbling and landings are ready for the postseason right now. Flatley could be a fabulous addition to the lineup if she can stay in bounds. She does two E passes, which is saying something for a senior coming back from an ankle injury. This wasn’t the most memorable rotation as far as performance quality goes, but just think about how that will change once Campbell, Frazier, and Moors are added. UCLA is going to be absolutely incredible on this event.
Ryan’s Stories of the Night
VT: UCLA competed only one 10.0 start (Poston’s front pike half) and five Yurchenko fulls, and while they were well-performed, it’s a bit disappointing based on this roster. The Bruins will need to nail their landings and/or improve their difficulty to hang with the top teams.
UB: The freshmen are ready to take some lineup spots on this event. A lot of the form looks season-ready. Sara Ulias really impressed me. She’ll definitely hold her own with the elites!
BB: Taping the beam endcap back on has to be some sort of metaphor. But seriously, this is going to be a hard lineup to predict. All but a few athletes have polished form, and it will be all about consistency to make the lineup.
FX: There is going to be some huge tumbling on this squad. Everyone who makes this lineup could be the anchor at another school.
MVP: I think Malabuyo narrowly overtakes Chiles for this one. She looks like she was made for college gymnastics, and it’s wonderful to see her healthy. Expect a lot of stuck landings for her over the next four years.
Biggest Surprise: Norah Flatley bringing all the difficulty on floor! She looks fabulous on the three events she competed tonight, and I can’t wait to see her have a revenge tour in her senior season.
Burning Question(s): The injury situation, especially on vault. Wright’s one and a half is a score UCLA looks like it needs, but Campbell could be a force in the lineup if she’s at full strength. Hopefully her back is a precautionary measure, because she had such a star turn on every event last season. Brooklyn Moors is another big question mark. I know a lot of people were excited to see her tonight, but luckily it sounds like she should be back soon. What events will she compete? Can she help the team on the events with less depth? Will she make us cry with her floor routine? There’s a lot to be excited about with the Bruins this year, but consistency is what’s going to put them in a better spot in 2022. There were quite a few errors tonight, including four falls out of ten routines on beam, but it’s still the preseason. With famously consistent teams like Utah and Oklahoma on their schedule this season, can UCLA hit when it counts?
Thanks so much for tuning in for my first live blog! UCLA opens its season with the Collegiate Challenge (Arizona, Cal, and Oregon State) in Anaheim on Saturday, Jan. 8 at 9:30 p.m. ET. Make sure to follow College Gym News for continued updates, analysis and interviews throughout the 2022 season and beyond! For now, stay safe and enjoy your weekend!
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