April 20, 2012
Duluth, Ga. - Second-seeded UCLA led a Pac-12 sweep in the first semifinal of the NCAA Gymnastics Championships, placing first with a score of 197.400 on Friday afternoon at the Gwinnett Center. Seventh-seeded Utah finished in second place with a score of 197.200, and 10th-seeded Stanford was third with a score of 197.125. All three Pac-12 teams advance to Saturday's Super Six Team Finals. The remaining three team finalists will be determined after the second semifinal later tonight.
The Bruins had to overcome some adversity on their final two event to win the meet. A fall from a Bruin competitor on both beam and floor put senior Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs in pressure-filled situations, but on each event she came through immediately after with scores of 9.9 to prevent UCLA from counting a fall.
UCLA started on its best event, vault, but did not have close to its best rotation, scoring 49.275. A pair of 9.9s from Olivia Courtney and Vanessa Zamarripa highlighted the rotation, and the Bruins also counted scores of 9.85 from Samantha Peszek, 9.825 from Tauny Frattone and 9.8 from Hopfner-Hibbs. The Bruins' score was good for a tie for second place with Utah after one rotation. Oklahoma's 49.325 on beam put the Sooners in first place, while Nebraska was in fourth with a 49.15 on bars.
The Bruins quickly built up some momentum on bars after a second rotation bye. Monique De La Torre's 9.85 leadoff routine set the tone, and Courtney followed her with a 9.9. A 9.875 by Peszek, 9.9 by Zamarripa and 9.925 by Aisha Gerber gave the Bruins a 49.45, their second-highest bars score of the year. That total helped UCLA overtake Oklahoma and put the Bruins in second place behind Utah by just .075.
Moving to balance beam in the fourth rotation, Gerber and Kaelie Baer led off with matching scores of 9.875, with Baer's being a career-high. Mattie Larson followed with a 9.775. A fall by Zamarripa put pressure on, but Hopfner-Hibbs and Peszek brushed it off with scores of 9.9 to weather the storm and give UCLA a team total of 49.325.
Needing just 49.175 on floor to move ahead of Utah, who had finished its meet with a final score of 197.2, the Bruins wrapped up the meet with a team total of 49.35. Frattone led off with a 9.85, followed by 9.9 from Zamarripa, 9.875 from Courtney, and 9.825 from Alyssa Pritchett. A rare fall by Peszek on her last tumbling pass meant Hopfner-Hibbs would need to hit in order for UCLA to advance, and she did that and more, scoring 9.9 to tie for the highest floor score of the afternoon and catapult the Bruins into first place.
"To be here, to be moving on the Super Six, is beyond words exciting," said UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field. "For us, it was an okay meet, it wasn't a great meet, and it's great when you get your team that says 'No, we're not going to give up. No, we're not going to settle for anything less than greatness'. And nobody has done that better this year than the senior that's sitting next to me, Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs. She is unquestionably one of the most beautiful gymnasts performance-wise in the world. We had two uncharacteristic falls with two of our guns, and Elyse had to follow both of those athletes and was just absolutely brilliant."
Hopfner-Hibbs qualified for event finals on beam and floor. Zamarripa qualified on bars and floor. Courtney and Gerber qualified on bars, and Peszek qualified on beam.