Champaign, Ill. – The fifth-ranked UCLA gymnastics team scored 196.800 to win the NCAA Champaign Regional on Saturday and qualify for the NCAA Championship in St. Louis, Mo. Apr. 14-15. Also qualifying in second place was Oregon State, which scored 196.150 to outscore Iowa, who finished strong with a 49.600 on beam to come in third overall with a 196.050.
"We did well. We didn't do great, which is fine," said UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field. "Moving forward, you have to look at the glass half full versus the glass half empty. We didn't stick a lot on vault or that many dismounts, but we also came out as healthy as we came in, which is really important at this time of year."
UCLA started the meet with a bang on uneven bars, scoring 49.425 with six hit routines, including three scores of 9.9 or higher. Sonya Meraz started things off with a 9.8, and JaNay Honest and Stella Savvidou followed with identical scores of 9.825. Madison Kocian showed why she is the World champion, scoring 9.95 after a stuck stalder to full-twisting double back dismount. Kyla Ross followed with a 9.9, and Christine Peng-Peng Lee finished the rotation with a 9.925.
The Bruins had quite a few nervous moments on balance beam in the second rotation, scoring just 49.025. Deductions on dismounts led to scores of 9.75 from Mikaela Gerber, Hallie Mossett and Kocian to start before Ross brought the Bruins back with a huge routine that scored 9.925. Lee added a 9.85 with her difficult routine that concluded with a stuck front full. Katelyn Ohashi had a great routine going to close but missed her foot on her dismount and finished with just a 9.2.
At the halfway mark, UCLA's lead had slipped to just two-tenths ahead of host Illinois going into floor, but a solid 49.275 set kept the Bruins ahead. Ohashi rallied after her beam mishap to lead off with a 9.85. Macy Toronjo made her one routine of the night count, scoring 9.825. Madison Preston touched her knee down on her last pass, scoring 9.225. Angi Cipra made up for it, though, by hitting her best routine of the season, scoring 9.875. Kocian also scored 9.875, and Mossett ended with a 9.85 to give UCLA a team total of 49.275 on floor.
The Bruins wrapped up competition in rotation five on vault, leading Oregon State by six tenths of a point. Cipra started with a nearly-stuck vault, bouncing up in place but not moving, and she scored 9.825. Kocian followed with a 9.8, and Napualani Hall landed her Yurchenko 1.5 with a hop forward to score 9.825. Felicia Hano powered her vault a little too much and scored 9.725. Ross took a hop back on her vault and scored 9.775. Preston ended the Bruins' meet on a strong note, however, scoring 9.85 to put UCLA over 49 with a 49.075.
UCLA had to wait for the other teams to finish in rotation six before being assured of their fate, but neither of the contending teams could surpass the Bruins' score of 196.800.
Kocian took first place on uneven bars with a 9.95 and tied with Cipra and Oregon State's Kaytianna McMillan for first on floor exercise with a 9.875. Kocian's all-around score of 39.375 was good for second place.
"It was really great how the team bounced back after Pac-12s and had two great weeks of training," said Kondos Field. "But most importantly, they were able to literally shake it off and come in and be relaxed, have fun, and just do normal. It was great to see that come together in the first round of the national championships."
UCLA will compete in the afternoon session of the NCAA semifinals on Apr. 14 at 12pm CT with Oklahoma, Washington, Oregon State, Utah and Denver. Competing in the evening semifinal are LSU, Nebraska, Alabama, Michigan, Florida and Georgia. The NCAA Championships will be held at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis.