Kyla Ross registered a career high of 39.850 in the all around Saturday afternoon, leading UCLA to a season high in its triumphant return to Pauley Pavilion where it defeated Arizona 198.025 to 194.795.
“I was hoping for a 40!” she joked. “But I’m pretty happy. Bars and beam were my two strengths last year, and I’ve worked really hard this preseason to bring up vault and floor.”
Ross’ excellence on vault this year is a revelation: Her Yurchenko one and a half is still relatively new and she struggled with the landing at the end of January, only to rebound and score two consecutive perfect 10.0s this month.
“I feel like I’ve been training that well since the last few weeks of preseason, but it wasn’t clicking in competition. I finally feel like I have the right mindset going in and just sort of envisioning what I do in practice.”
When asked about her competitive approach, she repeatedly mentioned her improved ability to relax and have fun during meets. It’s quite a development from the noted perfectionist and one that she credits in part to her teammates.
But one major part of UCLA’s team culture is still a work in progress for Ross. “When I came in, I did not like to dance at all. I still don’t dance that much! But I think I’ve become less embarrassed.”
Ross, who describes herself as “serious” by nature, is an excellent dancer, according to head coach Valorie Kondos-Field, but was too reticent to enjoy it in her early days in Westwood.
“Freshman year, we would dance in the dorms sometimes, but Katelyn [Ohashi] would make me. I wouldn’t want to do it. They’d play a song and be like, ‘DANCE!’”
She admits that her teammates’ pestering, in combination with her more energetic choreography this year, has helped her to enjoy competing on floor. “My floor routine this year has really brought out a different side,” she said. “I really enjoy performing. I’m making better eye contact and performing more to the crowd than just doing it for myself.”
Ross’ all around score is monumental in and of itself—it’s the fourth best result in program history, and she’s likely only a few weeks away from becoming the No. 1 ranked gymnast in the country. She has another landmark in mind though. A mention of the ‘Gym Slam,’ scoring a perfect 10.0 on every event, elicited an exasperated eye roll. She now has perfect scores on vault, bars and beam, but the last is proving trickier.
Only a small slide on her double pike separated her from perfection on floor against Arizona, and she knew exactly how close she was. “I thought I had it today! The last pass!“
But with the ‘Gym Slam’ in her sights—and a real chance at a national championship on all five individual events, as well as the team title—there’s no reason for her to worry too much about one tiny mistake on a near-perfect day. After all, she has dancing to do.
Article by Rebecca Scally
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