2018 Outlook – UCLA Bruins

Super Duper Seniors
Peng Peng Lee
(6th year)
  • Lineup star, top scorer on UB, BB
  • RQS of 9.955 (UB) and 9.910 (BB) in 2017
Rechelle Dennis
  • Will miss 2018 season with torn Achilles
  • Plans to return for 2019
Pua Hall
  • Regular on VT with 10.0-start Y1.5
  • Can provide backup FX as needed
JaNay Honest
  • Competes UB every week (9.865)
  • Will contend for FX lineup, provide backup VT
Sonya Meraz
  • Made final UB lineup in 2017
  • Can contribute any event as needed and score 9.800+
Katelyn Ohashi
  • #1 in nation on BB in 2017 (9.960)
  • Leadoff FX for 9.880
  • Looking to add back UB, maybe VT for 2018
Stella Savvidou
  • Made final UB lineup in 2017 (9.855)
  • Can provide backup VT, FX
Anna Glenn
  • Missed 2017 with torn labrum
  • Will contend for BB in 2018
Grace Glenn
  • Missed 2017 with torn labrum
  • December knee injury
  • Will contend for BB in 2018
Felicia Hano
  • Returned at end of 2017 for VT
  • Expected to contribute VT, BB, FX in 2018
Madison Kocian
  • Finally had labrum surgery
  • In doubt for 2018, could return at end of season
Gracie Kramer
  • VT specialist for 9.810 RQS in 2017
  • Plans to compete Y1.5 tucked instead of straight, still 10.0 start
Giulianna Pino
  • Did not compete in first season
Kyla Ross
  • Weekly VT, UB, BB in 2017
  • Top routine on VT (9.895), UB (9.965), #2 on BB (9.945)
  • Added FX at end of season
Mercedez Sanchez
  • Did not compete in first season
Macy Toronjo
  • Returned to FX halfway through 2017 for a 9.825-9.950 range
Nia Dennis
  • Legacy Elite
  • 2017 JO AA champion, Senior F
  • Expected to contribute AA from start
Sofia Gonzalez
  • Competed internationally for Philippines.
  • Has a BB routine
Rebecca Karlous
  • South Coast
  • Annual walk-on mystery
Savannah Kooyman
  • Precision
  • 6th UB, 7th BB, 2017 Region 1s, Senior F
  • Will contribute borderline possibilities/backups on any event
Kendal Poston
  • Azarian
  • 2017 JO Nationals 23rd AA, Senior E
Pauline Tratz
  • German elite
  • Still holding out hope for that 10.0 start handspring pike 1/2 on VT
  • Will also contribute FX
Lilia Waller
  • A Waller

Recent History
2017 – 4th
2016 – 5th
2015 – 11th
2014 – 8th
2013 – 4th
2012 – 3rd
2011 – 2nd
2010 – 1st

All told, the 2017 season ended reasonably for UCLA. Based on the talent on the roster, we would have expected a title-contending team, but based on the routines we actually saw develop in 2017, the finish was never going to be higher than 4th, which is exactly what happened. It’s certainly not a WOW result for a team with Ross and Kocian and whatnot, but those final lineups did what they were capable of doing.

The outlook is mostly similar for 2018. There will be optimism for a higher finish as some of the weaknesses on vault and floor should be addressed with new routines, optimism that is then counteracted by Madison Kocian’s surgery, leveling things out.

I’m not including Kocian in any of the lineup projections right now because we just don’t know whether we’ll see her at all (and if we do, it will be late in the year), so her routines are not ones UCLA can rely on. If she does come back, of course she’d be in any lineup she’s physically able to make.

Lineup locks
Ross (9.895), Hano (9.825), Tratz (FR), Dennis (FR)
Lineup options
Kramer (9.810), Hall (9.805), Savvidou (9.800), Meraz (9.796), Honest (9.790), Ohashi (9.737 in 2016), Kooyman (FR)

Vault proved UCLA’s weakest event in 2017, a season spent hoping more 10.0 vaults would come to fruition, and they never did. Don’t expect that story to go away suddenly in 2018, but the Bruins should also see an improved baseline on vault and a few more realistically high-scoring options.

The biggest factor is a healthy Hano, who showed the best vault of the Meet the Bruins event with a viable Y1.5 that can score real-world 9.9s. That’s a late-lineup luxury that UCLA did not have last year. In 2017, the 1.5s we did see came from Hall and Kramer, but they were not lineup-leading scores. Kramer was too likely to fall to make the final lineup, so this year she has switched to a tucked 1.5 (still a 10.0 start) in the hope of hitting more consistently. Hall is still going for the layout 1.5 in theory, but it’s always a little tucked anyway. That’s why even on the days she sticks, it’s a 9.850 vault. Both vaults should contend for the lineup again and will make it if they’re landed consistently, but they’ll be middle-lineup scores.

That brings us to this season’s edition of the “Do You Have a 10.0 Start?” game show, featuring contestants Tratz, Ross, and Dennis. All three should be in the vault lineup regardless (and do make for a better crop of fulls than UCLA had last year), but the hope for Tratz in particular is that she can bring the handspring pike 1/2 instead of the Yfull. We haven’t seen it yet.

It’s tough to get these 10.0 starts into the lineup because unless they’re great, the Yfull is going to score better, but great 10.0 starts are what it takes to contend for a championship. This year’s national champion isn’t going to be throwing out Yfulls at the end of a vault lineup, even if they’re good Yfulls. Theoretically, Dennis should have a bigger vault, but it looks like the full is the choice for her this year, and after last year I think we’ve all decided that Ross’s Omelianchik That Cried Wolf isn’t a thing until we actually see it.

The Bruins should get discernibly better on vault this year—more frequently going over 49.300, which happened just once all of last season—but if those potential 10.0 vaults that are currently Yfulls don’t materialize, UCLA is left with one definite 10.0 start, two maybe-inconsistent 10.0 starts, and a bunch of 9.95s, which won’t quite cut it.

Lineup locks
Ross (9.965), Lee (9.955), Dennis (FR), Honest (9.865)
Lineup options
Meraz (9.850), Ohashi (9.700 in 2016), Savvidou (9.855), Kooyman (FR)

Worries about UCLA repeating last season’s success on bars without Kocian are not unfounded—she’s Kocian and it’s bars—but the introduction of Dennis into the lineup to take over as that third high score along with Peng and Ross should keep the bars total somewhat close to where it was last season. Dennis is doing the Shap+bail, DLO routine and will get criticized for not doing enough, but will also score very well for it, so until they force you not to…

Meanwhile, Ross has upgraded her dismount to a DLO 1/1 for some reason (because UCLA really wants her to score 9.850 instead of 10?), but once she goes back to the DLO in March, she’ll get huge scores. I’ll also be interested to see what UCLA does with the anchor spot because Peng doesn’t really need it to get big scores. It could be used to boost, say, Dennis’s total instead.

Because of those three big scores in the lineup, the Bruins will be fine. There’s still some concern about a tendency toward 9.800 from the rest of the lineup inhibiting the chance to compete with a school like Oklahoma, but Honest and Meraz have proven the ability to hang around 9.850, which will be enough to get by at least. Keep an eye on Meraz. She gets better every year and has now ditched the bail—and its weekly lack-of-vertical deduction—to help herself score higher.

Ohashi is working to get back into the lineup and would be a nice 6th option, but otherwise keep an eye on Savvidou to make it back in. A Glenn at some point? There aren’t a ton of excellent options on bars, but the main six should be able to get 49.4s again.

Lineup locks
Ohashi (9.960), Ross (9.945), Lee (9.910), Dennis (FR)
Lineup options
Meraz (9.805), Hano (-), A Glenn (-), G Glenn (-), Toronjo (-), Tratz (FR), Kooyman (FR),

Beam was UCLA’s best event last season with four very believable 9.9s, and it should return to that top-3 level in 2018. Ohashi, Ross, and Peng will be the major players again, for whom we’ll expect 9.9s pretty much each time out. Peng’s composition is always a question in terms of which risk she should go for and which she should ditch (note that she got a 10 for her downgraded routine at Super Six), but she’ll get her share of big scores regardless. Those are three of the 10 best beam routines in NCAA right now.

I’m perfectly content to add Dennis to the same category as those three, someone who is showing quite nice leaps and can go 9.850+ even from the leadoff spot, a position I like for her. For the remaining places, UCLA has way too many options, so we’ll see. Hano impressed at Meet the Bruins, and if she continues performing like that, she’s in the lineup. I’d also be partial to a Glenn or two, with those lovely toes, and I still maintain beam is Meraz‘s best event. And then there’s Toronjo, whom we’ve never seen on beam but I’d like to. Kooyman also presents a very real option there, and oops I’ve already named 10 people to the lineup.

This should remain a 49.4 and 49.5 event in 2018.

Lineup locks
Ohashi (9.880), Hano (-), Dennis (FR), Tratz (FR)
Lineup options
Ross (9.275), Toronjo (9.725), Honest (9.663), Kooyman (FR), Hall (9.610), Savvidou (9.575), Meraz (9.510), Kramer (9.225)

Optimism prevails for UCLA on floor this season, especially compared to last season’s frequently unremarkable showings, because of the introduction of three big-power options not available last year from Hano, Dennis, and Tratz. It’s a reinvented apparatus, not just because of the new routines but because of what appears to be an improved approach to preparation and conditioning now that Jordyn Wieber is in charge of floor.

Let’s be honest: Most years, if UCLA had to show public floor routines on December 9th, we would have seen three double pikes and three dance-throughs. Four E passes at Meet the Bruins was much better. It’s not going to blow down the top teams and suddenly make UCLA top-3 on floor, but it’s a step. In addition to Hano’s DLO, Dennis’s double Arabian, and Tratz’s full-in, Ohashi is adding back a DLO to give her routine an extra boost of difficulty. That should be a strong crop of four sets.

The other two spots are TBD. I’m not sold on Ross for floor. She’s still struggling to get around her double saltos (the good news being that she looks the same now in December as she looked last April, so there’s time), but she’s also Kyla Ross and needs to be in the floor lineup even if she’s doing a bare minimum two-pass random rudi routine. It’s not that hard to get a 10.0 start on floor, and you know she could get huge scores for a super simple routine in the anchor spot. You KNOW it.

We didn’t see Toronjo at Meet the Bruins, but she was quite clean last season once she made it into the lineup and would be an asset again. I also eternally want to see Honest in the lineup because she’s the best performer on the roster right now. As always, Meraz will be a usable choice, and Kooyman looks like a realistic option on this piece as well.

The hope is that, with a little more bigness and a little less unprepared inconsistency (look at those poor averages from last season in the “lineup options” category) that floor can be one of the strong events for UCLA again.

Even if Kocian doesn’t get back, there’s no excuse for this not to be a Super Six season for UCLA. Bars and beam should remain strong, and the introductions of Dennis, Tratz, and a healthy Hano should put vault and floor in a better position to succeed than they were last year.

What keeps the Bruins short of the very top teams is a concern that even if vault and floor do improve, it would take a lot for them to improve up to the level of the best teams. That’s why UCLA still looks like a contender in the lower half of the top six rather than the upper half. I need to see more vaults develop and more early lineup 9.850s across the events in order to truly upgrade UCLA’s chances.

38 thoughts on “2018 Outlook – UCLA Bruins”

  1. Thanks for this preview! Do you know of anywhere online to find the complete video of the Meet the Bruins event? I’ve been looking but can’t find it. Thanks!!

    1. It was up for about a minute, but the Pac-12 Network blocked it so it could be a while before someone who is really, really nice takes the risk of putting it up again – usually three months or six months later it may appear somewhere again.

      There are single routine videos on YouTube if you want to search though.

  2. I think Kyla should just do a two pass floor routine. Her whip+double tuck and 1.5+front layout gives her enough for a 10.0 start. She also needs to change her leaps. I don’t understand why she does the double pike at the end and the Ferrari, it just adds unnecessary deductions to an otherwise clean routine.

    1. I think Kyla can pull out great numbers with three passes, she does look much more fit this year than she did last, so I have a feeling we’ll see a few good routines, and a few falls during the regular season and then solid and consistent by post season. Kyla has pulled an upgrade across all four (Omelianchik VT, DLO 1/1 UB, Straddle Mount BB, Ferrari FX), but the only one I think is for sure going to stay in her all-around set is her Beam mount. The Omelianchik is something that we have to assume is not going to happen just yet in order to practically visualize where they’ll end up, and they’ll probably do what they did with Ohashi’s layout full/layout on beam with Kyla’s bar dismount; that is alternate between the two dismounts based on how she feels, and then go for whichever is higher scoring for post season. The Ferrari just looked like something they were testing out, and I think we should count on UCLA to just change it to a split full.

  3. If the do get Kocian back towards the back half of the season (big if),
    and shes performing well…. she would have the potential to lift the team above what they were last year on at least 3 events maybe 4 as she was probably one of the most consistent vaults on the team year even if she wasnt the highest. Always there producing the 9.850 score, so if one of the vaulters isnt there, she could slide in on all 4 if ready. I am not sure if that would raise them above the 4th place finish of last year, but I think it could get them a lot closer to it. And make the super six not just a “these 3 will be in the top 3 in an order and these 3 will be in the bottom 3 in an order” which definitely was the vibe last season.

    BUT who knows, next week they could be telling us she is redshirting or that the expect her only on beam in the beginning of march. Selfishly, I want to see that back half bars & beam lineup again, and this time aided by dennis. Could be something else. Or just a dream……………….

  4. Various pre-season reviews of UCLA for 2018 seem to rely rather heavily on incoming Freshmen Nia Dennis and Pauline Tratz. Warning: Freshmen (including former elites) don’t often make a smooth initial transition into weekly NCAA gymnastics.

    Without All-Arounder Kocian, UCLA will suffer in the rankings and in key meets.

    Savvidou would have been a near-lock in the bars line-up, but her relatively recent wrist(?) surgery(?) puts that in question.

    With such exceptional beam and bars performances (and floor potential), it continues to be frustrating to see UCLA’s vault lineup of Yfulls (and often nonstuck Yfulls at that). There are over 20 gymnasts on this 2018 UCLA roster, and a lineup of usable 10.0 starts still isn’t even close to happening? If you must throw a Yfull then you need the best form possible…and unfortunately UCLA’s best form Yfull vaulter (Preston) took a medical retirement. Ouch.

    1. From what we saw at Meet the Bruins, Dennis and Tratz look positioned to shine in NCAA. While some (many) frosh struggle initially, those two give me the feeling that they will be great right from the start.

      I’m a big fan of Dennis’s plan to hop down to L10 for her last year before NCAA. It seems like a smart transitional move to rest the body and adjust to a different code, featuring execution over difficulty. There are a few elites who have done this, and I’m all for it!

      1. And during that recent preparatory period, Nia Dennis trained under previous UCLA and elite great (and Olympian alternate and brevet judge) Anna Li and Li’s Illinois gym-owning (Legacy Elite) Olympian parents Wu Jiani and Li Yuejiu. Hopefully some of Anna Li’s greatness rubbed off on Nia Dennis!

        Photo link (Nia Dennis in front, Li Yuejiu, Wu Jiani, and Anna Li in back):

  5. It just seems, yet again, that UCLA aren’t treating this as a sport. Do you wanna win? Or do you wanna have the gymternet gold star of approval…

    1. How are they not treating this as a sport? They altered their training plans completely and showed full routines in December (which they’ve never done even during the winning years). I’d say that’s adapting and taking winning pretty seriously?

    2. Amen. Stop trying to make UCLA happen, they’re neva gonna happen! They seem to care too much about dancing on the sidelines… then putting it all together.

    3. I agree! I also follow college football and the now ex-Tenn coach made a comment that his athletes may not win football championships, but they are “Champions of Life.” His cliches reminded me so much of UCLA gym. The most important thing is to be a good person. I won’t argue with that. But these gymnasts are getting a free education to compete and win meets — not dance on the sideline, go on Ellen, mingle with Olympians not on the team that UCLA invites to meets for extra PR.

      1. Everyone seems to forget that they placed 4th last year, which is hardly anything to sneeze at (unless you consider all teams beside the top three a disappointment). These young women are not merely gymnasts but student-athletes at a university. Any college kid would kill for opportunities like going on Ellen or networking with influential people. Critsising them for taking advantage of these opportunities seems harsh for no reason.

  6. From what I’ve seen so far, Nia looks like she has great potential to succeed here and most likely Tratz as well. However there seem to be tons of holes to fill! In addition to Maddie’s AA (4 consistently high scores) there are the scores from Cipra’s VT & FX, Gerber’s BB, Mossett’s BB & FX, Preston’s VT (and FX backup) that they’ll have to compensate for. Meet the Bruins showed some promise for sure with lots of potential lineup options for those gaps, it all comes down to whether or not the scores filling those gaps come close and if this team can stave off injuries for the rest of their lineup locks…

    1. If everyone stays healthy, they more than fill those holes.
      Nia Dennis in aa in place of Kocian (maybe not scoring *quite* as high, but close)
      Tratz steps into Cipra’s VT/FX hole. But, recall, Cipra was not a huge contributor last year.
      A healthy Hano can provide VT, BB, and FX replacing Mossett and Preston.
      As for Gerber beam, there’s at least one Glenn, and I predict Toronjo will be strong on BB, FX as well.

      I’m hoping that the team upping their conditioning will help keep the athletes healthy through the season. This seems to be UCLA’s greatest challenge.

  7. What about Stella Savvidou on floor? She competed in a few line ups in 2017 and I’m sure she went above 9.8 on a few occasions.

    1. Savvidou went higher than 9.8 on floor one time. Her highest scoring event has been Bars where she is known for her solid vertical handstand form.

      Savvidou’s FX scores in the 2017 season were:
      9.4, 9.7, 9.8, 9.925, 9.05, 9.575

      Bars 2017:
      9.85, 9.8, 9.8, 9.8, 9.875, 9.9, 9.75, 9.85, 9.9, 9.9, 9.6, 9.825, 9.825, 9.8

      Vault 2017:
      9.8, 9.8

      Beam: None in 2017, but in 2016: 9.825, 9.275

      Scoring source:

      Savvidou has apparently had two surgeries (foot in 2016, and wrist? in 2017) while at UCLA. She did not compete in the December 2017 Meet the Bruins intrasquad event. Hopefully she will return in fine form for the 2018 season–her Bars work would be particularly welcomed considering Kocian’s absence.

    2. I think Miss Val will want to showcase Savvidou beauty on floor in less competitive dual meets or exhibition, but she’s not a great option for bringing in big scores. Though, what’s the status of her wrist??

      1. Don’t know status, but appears to be the right wrist per this earlier photo (link):
        (She now wears a lesser wrap.)

        That earlier 2017 photo of 4 UCLA gymnasts is interesting considering their non-performing status at the recent December Meet the Bruins event:

        Grace Glenn: did not participate due to December leg injury. (Photo may be of identical twin Anna who is currently healthy and did perform at the December event.)
        Peng-Peng Lee: did not participate due to knee soreness.
        Stella Savvidou: did not participate during wrist recovery.
        Rechelle Dennis: out for entire 2018 season due to torn achilles.
        [Peng had just been hit by a volleyball seconds before that photo was taken. Note to others: do not sit by injury-prone UCLA gymnasts.]

  8. Has Rachelle Dennis ever competed in a meet? Is she on scholarship? I’m surprised she is even going for a fifth year. Maybe she wants a free Masters degree? Can’t blame her!

    1. >Has Rechelle Dennis ever competed in a meet?
      Yes, in four total meets in 2016/2017 (6 scoring rotations–4 Bars and 2 Vault) and in many more meets in exhibition on various apparatus. I believe Bars is her most competitive event.

      >Is she on scholarship?
      No, I don’t believe Rechelle Dennis is on a gymnastics scholarship.

  9. Rechelle competed once on bars in 2017 (the one meet where they rested Kocian on all four events). I think Rechelle also competed bars a few times in 2016.

    1. Rechelle had taken two really nasty falls performing exhibitions on bars earlier in the year, so it was awesome to see her hit in that meet against North Carolina. If I’m not mistaken, that was the only time all season that UCLA deviated from the lineup of Meraz, Honest, Savvidou, Ross, Kocian, and Peng.

  10. Hmm. Unpopular opinion: scrap the L9 walkons, recruit fewer broken elites, go for simple, clean gymnastics.

    1. Makes sense. It would also make for more individualized coaching. It’s probably hard to give everyone attention when there are 20 athletes training at the same time. Trim it down and I suspect it leads to more focus in the gym.

      I also don’t understand why UCLA has 5/6 assistants/ex-gymnasts moving mats every meet. I mean Shapiro just laughs through every meet on the sidelines. You have 20 girls on your team, plus a full coaching staff, surely you don’t need ex-teammates cluttering the sidelines trying to get camera time.

      1. They are there to cheer and make noise – sort of a UCLA deal for a long time. Annoying (especially the blonde who chases down the vaulters to high 5 them). They need to get out in the sunshine and enjoy college life. They seem a little co-dependent but they are really nice girls and obviously enjoy the friendship and association with the team. More power to them.

      2. Per NCAA rules, scholarship athletes who take a medical retirement, but who wish to stay in school and complete their education, must perform some type of work for the team or athletic department (managerial, administrative/clerical, etc.) That’s why you see Melissa Metcalf (the aforementioned blond) doling out high fives and schlepping mats. Metcalf was a very strong junior gymnast who hit L10 by the age of 11. Unfortunately, she had a terrible injury history that caught up with her after one season of NCAA competition.

  11. Nia Dennis is my new favorite “I love you but you’re on an opposing team so I don’t want you to do well, but you’ll probably do well, and I appreciate what you do as a gymnast, so you do you” gymnast.

  12. there’s just something about Nia’s attitude i’ve been detecting on snapchats and such that i don’t like. she seems very full of herself and seems to know she’s the star. not a fan

    1. ha I made a similar comment about Maggie Nichols last year and got crucified by the gymternet

    2. How dare anyone put down Nia Nation! How about her air-writing “Nia” with her finger during routines? (lol)

      High self-esteem is not unusual for such an elite athlete. If she can consistently hit her routines in All-Around competition, then more power to Nia Nation-al Championships! (Insert UCLA 8-Clap here.)

    1. Yes. Per Brielle Nguyen’s Dec 17th instagram (brrielleee) post:

      “I am transferring to ucla this month and joining their gymnastics program as well !”

      She also appeared in a recent casual UCLA gymnastics team photo of Dec 27.

      1. lol, Nguyen’s bio on the Illinois site lists her club as “Gymaz.”

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