UCLA 2017

Angi Cipra
  • Top FX, weekly VT in 2016
  • Provides backup BB
  • 2016 RQS: FX – 9.930, VT – 9.830
  • 2016 average: BB – 9.375
Mikaela Gerber
  • Leadoff BB in 2016, backup FX
  • 2016 RQS: BB – 9.860
  • 2016 average: FX – 9.760
Peng Peng Lee
  • When not injured, starring routines on UB, BB
  • Occasional VT when able
  • 2016 average: UB – 9.875, VT – 9.825, BB – 9.471
Hallie Mossett
  • Peppered in UB, FX routines between injuries in 2016
  • 2016 average: FX – 9.863, UB – 9.592
Rechelle Dennis
  • Two VTs, three UBs in 2016
  • 2016 average: UB – 9.792, VT – 9.675
Pua Hall
  • Frequent VT, early-season FX in 2016
  • 2016 RQS: VT – 9.840, FX – 9.795
Janay Honest
  • Made postseason lineups on VT, UB, FX in 2016
  • 2016 RQS: UB – 9.875, VT – 9.810
  • 2016 average: FX – 9.861
Sonya Meraz
  • Weekly BB, UB in 2016
  • Borderline lineup/backup routines on any event as needed
  • 2016 RQS: BB – 9.835, UB – 9.810
  • 2016 average: FX – 9.825, VT – 9.774
Katelyn Ohashi
  • Staple of BB lineup in 2016
  • Contributed UB, FX when healthy, backup VT
  • 2016 RQS: BB – 9.865, FX – 9.830
  • 2016 average: VT – 9.738, UB – 9.733
Madison Preston
  • Anchor VT, occasional FX, one BB in 2016
  • 2016 RQS: VT – 9.830
  • 2016 average: FX – 9.855, BB – 9.775
Stella Savvidou
  • Fleeting, momentary routines on UB, BB in freshman year
  • 2016 average: BB – 9.550, UB – 9.490
Maria Caire
  • Annual walk-on mystery
Anna Glenn
  • Southeastern
  • 2015 Nastia Cup 2nd AA
  • 2015 JO Nationals 6th AA, VT 2nd
Grace Glenn
  • Southeastern
  • 2016 Region 8 champion
  • 2014 JO Nationals AA champion
Felicia Hano
  • Gym-Max
  • 2014 US Nationals 9th (three events)
  • 2014 Pan Ams alternate
Madison Kocian
  • WOGA
  • 2016 Olympic gold medalist
  • 2016 Olympic UB silver
  • 2015 World Championship UB gold
  • Madison Kocian
Gracie Kramer
  • Wildfire
  • 2015 JO Nationals 2nd AA, 2nd BB, 2nd FX
Giulianna Pino
  • Ecuador
  • Competed at 2015 World Championship
Kyla Ross
  • Gym-Max
  • 2012 Olympic gold medalist
  • 2013 World Championship AA silver
  • 2014 World Championship AA bronze
  • Kind of a big deal
Mercedez Sanchez
  • Matrix CA
  • 2016 Region 1 AA 13th, VT 10th
Macy Toronjo
  • Did not compete in freshman year with injury

Recent History
2016 – 5th
2015 – 11th
2014 – 8th
2013 – 4th
2012 – 3rd
2011 – 2nd
2010 – 1st

Heading into 2016 nationals, UCLA’s recent results had been pretty meh, displaying a clear downward trajectory from those championship-contending teams of the early 2010s. That made returning to Super Six last year an essential milestone. Finishing in 5th place was as well as that roster could have hoped to do, and 2016 marked the first time the Bruins had improved on the previous season’s result since that 2010 championship.

But really, it’s been all about the 2017 season for a while now. This is the year the famous freshmen swoop in to return UCLA to its title-winning ways. Or so it has been explained to us. Even with Simone Biles deciding to become some kind of massive celebrity now instead going to UCLA (forgiveness is a process), this Bruin 2017 team remains stacked with names and talent.

A national championship is a realistic goal, but UCLA is also the most mysterious of the title contenders because we haven’t seen actual college routines from the majority of the essential contributors. What level of gymnastics, difficulty, and health will the likes of Ross and Kocian show in NCAA? That, more than anything else, will determine whether UCLA is more of a 1st-place team or a 7th-place team in 2017.

Returning options – Hall (9.840), Preston (9.830), Cipra (9.830), Lee (9.825), Honest (9.810), Meraz (9.775), Ohashi (9.737), Dennis (9.675)

UCLA didn’t have the difficulty on vault last season, relying on only an Arabian from Bynum and a tilt-a-whirl of a 1.5 from Hall to get 10.0 starts. This preseason, we’ve been treated to all kinds of attempts to develop more 10.0 starts: 1.5s from Honest, Cipra, and Kramer; Omelianchiks from Ross, Hall, and Kocian (a transparent attempt to get on my good side…and it’s working); and every possible Yurchenko vault in existence from Felicia Hano. Her Yuchenko Kitchen Sink is GORGEOUS.

The majority of those vaults are unlikely to be good enough to be performed during the competition season, but UCLA’s ultimate competitiveness with the top teams will depend on making sure at least a few of them are. But, will they have four 10.0 starts? Two? One? Zero? Perform a contemporary dance to Coldplay’s “Fix You” on the landing mat to see how it scores? We just don’t know, which renders vault a precarious proposition for UCLA this year compared to the multiple sure-thing, we’ve-been-sticking-since-October 10.0 starts on the other top teams.

Three vaulters I’m looking to are Felicia Hano, who has the power to be a vaulting leader and really does need to be a 9.900, Gracie Kramer, who is the overshadowed name to keep an eye on this year because of the solid 1.5 she showed in JO days, and Kyla Ross, whose Omelianchik is still somewhat new but now that new. While more attention will be paid to Ross’s bars and beam, the team absolutely needs that vault from her fairly regularly.

Any other 10.0 vaults would be a bonus, but we’re getting into “is it actually worth it?” territory there. Preston had the best full on the team last year and should also return to the lineup, but among the crop of fulls, UCLA has enough options to be able to drop the weaker, flatter, crooked ones and use only the 9.8+ scores. A contrast to 2016. And by options, I mean options. Preston, Honest, Cipra, Glenn, Meraz, Ohashi, Lee (?), Dennis, Toronjo (?). UCLA isn’t hurting for Yurchenko fulls. If the Bruins can get something reliable out of Pua Hall and then a couple of the cleaner supporting fulls in the lineup, they’ll be able to get by on vault, improve on last year’s 49.1s, and let the other events do the real talking.  

Top returners – Lee (9.875), Honest (9.875),
Returning options – Meraz (9.810), Dennis (9.792), Ohashi (9.700), Mossett (9.592), Savvidou (9.519)

For the last two seasons, UCLA has been forced to ask a number of gymnasts who aren’t really bars workers to compete UB because there was nothing else to do. Thank you for your service. You did yeoman’s work. This year, less of that and more 9.9s.

Let’s start, obviously, with Kocian and Ross. I heard a rumor on snapchat that Madison Kocian is really good at bars. Unconfirmed reports.

Kocian is going to hit for crazy scores. We know this. Kyla, meanwhile, appears to be going very bare-bones with her routine composition this season. Right now, her bars set is just a Shap to Pak combo and a DLO, but exactly no one is going to care that it’s a quarter of a skill long with no same-bar release. She’s Kyla and it will be pristine. And of course, don’t forget about Peng, who completes the triumvirate of bars greatness. She has added a Ray to her Bhardwaj and will be in contention for 9.9s again, with the bonus of less pressure on her to carry the lineup. Last season, when Peng went down, it decimated the lineup because she was the score. This year, she’s simply one of the scores.

We can legitimately expect regular 9.9s from those three, meaning that rounding out the lineup with a few 9.850s puts UCLA in a position for the 49.4s it takes to be one of the top-ranked bars teams. Ohashi was up, down, and out last season (and sideways and frontways and lengthways), but she’s still one of the top six bars talents on the roster. Janay Honest is an interesting case because she was absolutely one of those fill-in bars workers, but she ended up performing much better than anyone expected. Yes, flexed feet, but she also got serious scores that would still be worth counting this season.

Grace Glenn is pretty, pretty on bars, Hallie Mossett can get worthwhile scores during the nanosecond when she’s healthy, and Stella Savvidou is basically performing a cast handstand as a bars routine, but it’s a really excellent cast handstand. If she’s able to not fall to pieces mentally and emotionally during her routine, that’s another possible score. UCLA should be able to pull three 9.850s out of that supporting group. And if it doesn’t go to plan, they’ll still have the Meraz and Dennis backup routines.

Top returners – Ohashi (9.865), Gerber (9.860), Meraz (9.835), Lee (9.375)
Returning options – Preston (9.775), Savvidou (9.550), Cipra (9.375)

UCLA’s beam will be one of the hardest lineups to make in the country. There are possible 9.9s who won’t get into the six. Let’s see if we can do this. We’ll start with the core four: Ross, Lee, Kocian, Ohashi. Obviously. Beam is Kyla’s most likely 10. Kocian will also put together a 10-possible routine that’s going to seem way too easy for her because she’s Madison Kocian. Ohashi is set on training that layout 1/1, which will be among UCLA’s big moments when she hits it. Lee continues to be the normal amount of an-actual-religion on beam, and if she has a routine that she can physically hit (unlike last year), she will return to her 9.9 ways.

Any of those routines would be the star of the lineup on another team, but on this team, they unite to mean that we should have 49.5 expectations.

Now, welcome to the clash for the other two lineup spots. I’m partial to Grace Glenn. She is exquisite on beam, and at her best, will be able to score right with the big four. So, we’re already running out of room for typical lineups constants Gerber and Meraz. Meraz has been the sturdy, solid “she hits when no one else does” member of the lineup who reminded us last season that she can also nail some split elements. Of all the crappy switch 1/2s we have to see, hers is not one of them. Former deer-in-headlights Mikaela Gerber also turned into a smooth and refined option last year for 9.850+ scores even in the leadoff spot.

That’s seven more-than-respectable routines, and I haven’t even mentioned Hano yet. Oops. Eight. There’s also the freshman Giulianna Pino, whose best event is beam. She would make this lineup in other seasons, though there may just be too many people ahead of her this time around, people that may or may not include gymnasts who showed real potential last year like Preston and Savvidou. Also remember when Hallie Mossett did beam?

Top returners – Cipra (9.930), Mossett (9.912), Honest (9.875), Preston (9.869), Ohashi (9.830)
Returning options – Meraz (9.825), Hall (9.795), Gerber (9.760),

Floor is an interesting event for UCLA in 2017, one where success may ultimately be the domain of the not-big names. Certainly, Kocian and Ross would be assets on floor and have the ability to score exceptionally well, though Kocian’s routine is clearly in the work-in-progress phase and Kyla is still doing a Ferrari because she wants to send me to an early grave.

Week-to-week floor success, however, is going to be more about Janay Honest and Angi Cipra than it is about Ross and Kocian. Honest has continued to develop more security with her tumbling and has spent the preseason training a pretty realistic DLO. Cipra also appears to have ditched the full-in (which was never good or safe enough to be worth performing over a double tuck) in favor of her own DLO. Those two must be constant high scores toward the end of the lineup, joined by DLO triplet Felicia Hano, who in the inverse of the Kocian/Ross dynamic, is most needed for her vault and floor routines.

Speaking of people who are most needed for their floor routines, Macy Toronjo. Let’s talk about her. She missed last season with a shoulder injury and hasn’t been healthy yet as a Bruin, which means we’re sort of waiting to see what she’s going to contribute. Still, she has serious game in the floor department. When 100%, she’ll be a definite member of a couple lineups, with floor the chief among them.

The six I’ve mentioned would be a pretty special, nationally competitive six, but how much would you really bet on seeing all six of them in the same floor lineup at the same meet ever? Obviously nothing. So, let’s all recall that time Hallie Mossett was amazing on floor and scored a 58.000 in the first meet last year and then got injured. I definitely remember it. Preston also made waves last year for her fan-favorite “murdered Victorian orphan spirit does the New York club scene”-themed routine (also, I would see that movie), Grace Glenn has been training a front 2/1 to sit split that I enjoy thoroughly, and then also Katelyn Ohashi, whom we’ll need to see on floor because she’s Katelyn Ohashi. There is depth. All of it will come into play and will be used. It’s UCLA after all.

With these potential lineups, UCLA has a realistic path to scoring comfortably into the 197s plenty of times this season. The big guns on bars and the entire lineup on beam should keep those events among the best in the country, and the Bruins’ road to a championship this year requires winning those pieces. That, in turn, requires full health from Ross and Kocian, so it’s understandable that UCLA would want to go the conservative route in terms of pushing them on vault and floor.

Beyond health (though I suppose it’s all related), possible stumbling blocks emerging for UCLA include not seeing enough of the theoretical 10.0 vaults pan out and therefore dropping too many tenths to Oklahoma/SEC teams that have multiple definite and stickable 10.0 starts. Another issue may be not getting the top floor workers all into the lineup at the same time by the end of the season and seeming understocked when compared to those same contenders.

The gymnastics ability is there. In terms of talent and previous accomplishments, UCLA probably is the best team in the country. How that talent is managed in order to be healthy and able to stick come April (in the rock-paper-scissors of NCAA gymnastics, sticking covers pretty, and sticking covers Olympians) will determine the result.

9 thoughts on “UCLA 2017”

  1. I’m really rooting for this team this year!! Do you know what happened to Melissa Metcalf and Nicki Shapiro? I noticed they’re missing from the lineup…

    1. Shapiro appears to have retired,but is still doing things with the team, I believe, like running Snapchat. Rumor is Metcalf was cut, but who knows what the story is there.

  2. Sonya Meraz gets very little credit, but she functionally carried UCLA in the past two years. There were other standouts who rightfully got credit for bringing in the big scores, like Peszek, but when 1/2 the team was injured and/or being preserved for post-season, and the other 1/2 on scholarship were putting up 9.1s and 9.2s, girl went out there and hit every week, even if it was only for a 9.7 – 9.8. She doesn’t have a scholarship, and she probably won’t see a ton of competition time if everyone is healthy this year (ahahahaha, UCLA with everyone healthy. Hilarious.), so I hope she gets a lot of appreciation from Miss Val.

  3. Meraz has shown a double layout on floor, 1 1/2 on vault, and Ray release move on bars in preseason. She’s continued to improve a lot and I definitely expect her to see competition time on all 4 events throughout the season (maybe not post season). Ohashi also has a double layout on floor and Omelianchik on vault so look for her in the AA.

  4. I’m surprised you didn’t touch on fitness as a key to the Bruins success this year. We all know Val likes to peak at odd times, and her strategy of resting vs. competing her stars hasn’t really worked for her in recent years. The fact that UGA has made the Super 6 more often than UCLA in the past four years is a testament to the Bruins’ lack of fitness and consistency (oh and multiple injuries).

    If everyone stays healthy, and if Ross/Kocian don’t turn out like Beckerman (TEARS), then this will be a great season. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they lost 3 athletes by March and had to use Stella Savvidou at Regionals. Lots of ifs…

    1. You are so right. They lost three before the first meet! Though hopefully Cipra isn’t out for the whole season.

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