Jan. 8, 2012
Preseason No. 1 UCLA took a big lead after the first event with a postseason-worthy vault rotation, nearly gave it all away on balance beam, but then hung on in the last rotation to squeak out a season-opening 196.075-196.025 victory over No. 5 Utah Sunday afternoon at a sold-out John Wooden Center.
The Bruins started the meet in about the same fashion they ended 2011, with a monster vault rotation. Four Bruins scored 9.9 or higher, led by senior Tauny Frattone's 9.95 that tied her career-best and sophomore Samantha Peszek's career-high 9.925. Reigning Pac-12 vault champion Olivia Courtney added a 9.9, as did 2010 NCAA vault champion Vanessa Zamarripa, who was competing for the first time in over a year after suffering a torn Achilles tendon last winter. Freshman Mattie Larson earned a 9.875, and senior Kaelie Baer, vaulting for the first time in competition since her freshman year, led off with a 9.825. The Bruins' team total of 49.55 put them ahead of Utah by over a point, as the Utes scored just 48.45 on uneven bars.
UCLA continued to post strong scores on the uneven bars, earning 49.275 as all six Bruins scored 9.825 or better. Senior Aisha Gerber led all competitors with a 9.9, while Courtney scored 9.875, and junior Monique De La Torre earned a leadoff 9.85. Larson, Peszek and Zamarripa each scored 9.825. Utah, meanwhile, inched slightly closer to the Bruins by scoring a 49.3 on vault, led by Kailah Delaney's 9.9.
Balance beam awaited UCLA in rotation three, and the Bruins' 1.075 lead nearly evaporated with wobbly routines. Gerber led off with a 9.8, but the Bruins had to count a 9.4 from Courtney and a 9.55 from Lichelle Wong after a rare fall by Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs. Larson's 9.8 and Peszek's 9.825 helped UCLA keep its lead, by just .175 going into the final rotation.
It went down to the wire in rotation four, with Utah providing two 9.8s and a 9.85 from its first three competitors, while UCLA got a 9.75 from Gerber, 9.875 from Frattone and 9.7 from Courtney, who stepped out of bounds on her first tumbling pass. The meet came down to the final two competitors for each team. Peszek answered Cortni Beers' 9.75 on beam with a 9.875, effortlessly hitting a double layout opening pass in her first collegiate floor routine. After Utah's Kyndal Robarts scored 9.8 on Utah's last beam routine, Hopfner-Hibbs needed to score 9.65 or better to secure the victory. She stepped out of bounds on her first tumbling pass but competed well the remainder of her routine to score 9.675.
"I'm very pleased that we got the scores that we deserved, especially on vault," said UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field. "This may be the best vault team I've ever seen, and I was worried that because it was our first meet, we wouldn't get rewarded, but it was great to see the judges reward great gymnastics. I am disappointed with beam, however. They were perfectly prepared to come out and hit. We couldn't have done more intrasquads, and they couldn't have done better in those intrasquads to be prepared, but they just weren't today. But it was nice to see them come back and win the meet because too often we don't after a missed event."
In her first time competing all-around at the collegiate level, Peszek took first place with a score of 39.45. Utah's Stephanie McAllister was second with 39.325, followed by her teammate Corrie Lothrop (39.275). Larson placed fourth in her all-around debut with a 39.05, and Courtney was fifth with 38.875.
UCLA will next compete on Sunday, Jan. 15 at California.