The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

2021 UCLA Bruins

2021 UCLA ROSTER
Seniors
Nia Dennis
VT
UB
BB
FX
  • Competed VT, FX each meet in 2020
  • #1 returning score on both (9.915 FX, 9.875 VT)
  • Competed 2 BBs (hit 1 of 2)
  • Competed UB in 2019, avg 9.814
Savannah Kooyman
UB
  • Competed UB each week in 2020
  • NQS of 9.805
Kendal Poston
VT
BB
  • Competed 9 VTs, 5 BBs in 2020
  • #2 returning score on VT (9.820)
  • Avg of 9.675 on BB
Nicki Shapiro
(redshirt)
UB
BB
  • Returned to roster to compete 5 BB, 1 UB
  • Hit 4 of 5 on BB (avg 9.690)
  • Scored 9.775 in single UB routine
Pauline Tratz
VT
FX
  • Competed 4 VT, 4 FX in 2020
  • Avg 9.800 VT, 9.638 FX
  • 2019 NQS of 9.900 FX, 9.850 VT
Lilia Waller
 
  • Returns to roster for 2021
  • Last on roster in 2018, did not compete
Juniors
Norah Flatley
VT
UB

BB
FX
  • Competed UB, BB in 9 of 10 meets in 2020
  • #1 returning score on BB (9.885)
  • #2 returning score on UB (9.845)
  • Competed 6 FX, hitting 5 of 6
Margzetta Frazier
VT
UB

BB
FX
  • Competed AA first 3 meets of 2020
  • Then limited to UB due to injury
  • #1 returning score on UB (9.915)
  • Avg 9.925 FX, 9.817 VT, 9.800 BB
Samantha Sakti
BB
  • Competed BB in 8 meets in 2020
  • #2 returning score on BB (9.830)
Sara Taubman
 
  • Did not compete in first 2 seasons
Sekai Wright
VT
  • Missed most of 2020 season
  • Competed 2 VT, avg 9.750
  • NQS of 9.855 in 2019
Sophomores
Emma Andres
VT
FX
  • Competed 3 FX, 1 VT (9.750) in 2020
  • Avg 9.817 FX
Paige Hogan
 
  • Did not compete in 2020
Chloe Lashbrooke
VT
FX
  • Competed 6 FX, 2 VT in 2020
  • #2 returning score on FX (9.860)
  • Avg 9.775 VT
Kalyany Steele VT
UB
FX
  • Competed 6 UB in 2020
  • Hit 5 of 6, NQS of 9.660
Freshmen
Chae Campbell
VT
UB
BB
FX
  • Metroplex
  • 3rd AA, 2019 JO Nationals
  • 9th AA, 2020 Nastia Cup
Frida Esparza
VT
UB
BB
FX
  • Head Over Heels
  • 2018 Mexican AA champion
  • 32nd AA, 2018 World Championships
Sara Ulias
UB
  • Paramount
  • 3rd UB, 2019 Region 1

RANKING HISTORY
2020 – 3rd
2019 – 3rd
2018 – 1st
2017 – 4th
2016 – 5th
2015 – 11th
2014 – 8th
2013 – 4th
2012 – 3rd
2011 – 2nd

THE 2020 STORY
UCLA held its own through 2020, recording plenty of strong scores and setting itself up as a compelling pick to make the team final and one of the more convincing options to score a championship upset, if an upset was to be had. Though, in the final year of the Ross/Kocian class, UCLA would have entertained hopes of an actual national title, hopes that were not able to play to a conclusion because of the abbreviated season.

DEPARTING ROUTINES
Kyla Ross – VT, UB, BB, FX
Madison Kocian – UB, BB, FX
Felicia Hano – VT, UB, BB, FX
Gracie Kramer – VT, FX
Grace Glenn – BB
Anna Glenn – (VT, UB)
Macy Toronjo – (UB, FX)

INCOMING ROUTINES
Frida Esparza – VT, UB, BB, FX
Chae Campbell – VT, UB, BB, FX
Sara Ulias – UB

2021 PROJECTION
Regression.

Expectations for UCLA in 2021 will be lower than is typical for this team. Given what routines have departed and the gymnasts deferring until next season, it’s just not even mathematically possible for the handful of new athletes to make up for the scores that have been lost, so athletes who weren’t scoring high enough to make lineups in the past will now be called upon to contribute critical routines. I do, however, kind of wish Miss Val were still head coach just so she could tell us that “actually I think this year’s team is better than last year’s team because they’ve had to work harder for it.”

VAULT

2020 Event Ranking: 5

Lineup locks: Nia Dennis, Sekai Wright, Kendal Poston, Chae Campbell
Lineup options: Pauline Tratz, Marz Frazier, Frida Esparza, Norah Flatley, Chloe Lashbrooke, Emma Andres, Kalyany Steele

Last season, UCLA was able to get by on vault without much from Pauline Tratz and with Sekai Wright being temporarily ineligible, but that luxury no longer exists and having both competing full time will be critical in 2021. Otherwise, UCLA gets down to “Yfull for 9.750” pretty quickly on the depth chart. Wright and Tratz need to join the might-as-well-be-a-10.0-start Yfull from Nia Dennis and the hs pike 1/2 from Kendal Poston (another vault that will have to carry more weight in 2021) in the meat of the lineup. I also expect to see weekly contribution from Chae Campbell, who has a gigantic Yfull of her own.

So if you have Dennis, Campbell, Wright, Poston, and Tratz, that’s a reasonable five, and there are a number of other very viable Yfulls on this team—including from Frida Esparza who could see time here—to fill out a group of six. But that’s still a lot of fulls. Too many for a top team. It could get very 9.8y. So in the quest to find new scores among familiar faces, I’m thinking about Marz Frazier, who is too good at vault to be…not really a vaulter in college. And what of Kalyany Steele, who had a DTY ages ago in elite but competed only bars last season? Someone like that will have to emerge to keep UCLA from getting stuck in the friend zone of 49.2s on vault in the no-Ross/no-Hano era.

BARS

2020 Event Ranking: 2

Lineup locks: Frida Esparza, Marz Frazier, Norah Flatley, Kalyany Steele
Lineup options: Chae Campbell, Nia Dennis, Nicki Shapiro, Sara Ulias, Savannah Kooyman

UCLA has lost some…kind of famous bars routines, but does return a solid core that can get 9.9s and prevent this lineup from falling too, too much. Weirdly, it’s not the one I’m most concerned about. Marz Frazier scored at least 9.900 for every bars routine last year, Norah Flatley can certainly get 9.9s depending on the dismount, and Kalyany Steele started to find her way toward the end of last season and should continue to grow into a more critical lineup contributor this year. Perhaps most importantly, newcomer Frida Esparza is an absolutely tremendous bars worker from whom the world will be expected right away. No pressure, but be Kyla, ok byeeeeee.

That’s an essential and competitive four, but a relative lack of options for routines five and six could still be a stumbling point. Ideally, Nia Dennis would be there, but she was not able to compete bars at all last season. I imagine the team will get Chae Campbell in there, who racked up consistently high bars scores in JO with worthwhile amplitude, and Sara Ulias has some pretty tools on bars to work with. Nicki Shapiro went once last season for 9.775, and Savannah Kooyman has made a career of being able to go as needed for a road 9.7/home 9.8. And I see “as needed” happening a lot this year. There could be a 9.750ish nestled into the #2 or #3 spot for the Bruins in 2021, but that’s actually not an unusual phenomenon for them.

BEAM

2020 Event Ranking: 5

Lineup locks: Norah Flatley, Frida Esparza, Samantha Sakti
Lineup options: Nia Dennis, Kendal Poston, Marz Frazier, Chae Campbell, Nicki Shapiro

Norah Flatley will be called upon to move to a position of lineup leadership in 2021, now as the most experienced true beamer on UCLA’s team. Samantha Sakti, who started strong then missed some time last year, will be counted on even more, and Frida Esparza should be nearly as important on beam as she will be on bars. So…you’ve got three? What else is there?

Nia Dennis has been a sometimes-beamer throughout her time at UCLA, but it would be a major boost to the team if she could turn into an always- beamer in her senior year. In terms of max scoring potential, she can be right up there with the lineup locks. The last couple seasons, Kendal Poston has been the scrappy backup trying to fight her way into the lineup, and now the waters have parted for her to get in there every week if she can prove consistency. It’s these returning athletes and these returning routines that will have to step up for UCLA to fill out lineups and have a chance to develop competitive scores without as many “look at my toe, thank you for the 10” athletes this year.

Marz Frazier is another who started out in the lineup last season pre-injury, and while beam has pretty much always been her 4th-best piece, it’s still a very countable score. I’d say the same is true for Chae Campbell, who never got the same scores on beam as the other events in JO but has the ability in both the acro and leap positions. And of course, it would make the world right and good if Nicki Shapiro were suddenly just a world-beating beamer in 2021.

None of this year’s sophomores competed beam last season because there was no reason for them to, but since things aren’t looking super deep in terms of returning beamers, UCLA may also need to call upon a routine from someone like Emma Andres to fill out the list.

FLOOR

2020 Event Ranking: 1

Lineup locks: Nia Dennis, Marz Frazier, Frida Esparza, Chae Campbell
Lineup options: Pauline Tratz, Chloe Lashbrooke, Norah Flatley, Emma Andres

Where…where did everybody go? UCLA is coming off two consecutive seasons ranked #1 in the country on floor, a feat that can largely be attributed to a bunch of gymnasts who aren’t here anymore. That’s why the most important factor in UCLA’s effort to retain floor as a strength in 2021 will be the health of Marz Frazier. Her floor can warrant actual, real-life 10s when she’s at her best, and that’s more critical then ever right now. There were times in recent seasons where we were trying to decide who among Dennis, Frazier, and Tratz would get left out of the floor lineup. Now, you’d basically die without any of those routines.

Frida Esparza can pull out some unexpectedly big tumbling, and Chae Campbell has the leap amplitude, acro repertoire, and performance comfort to find herself right at home in the lineup. UCLA will hope to count on both of them. We’ve seen other athletes on floor—Norah Flatley has gone, Chloe Lashbrooke and Emma Andres showed floor last year—but they’ve been in a bonus-routine role that they won’t be in any longer. The moment of “oh wow, Norah Flatley-slash-Chloe Lashbrooke is going on floor this week” “oh wow, she got a 9.925” can’t be a pleasant surprise anymore. It…kind of has to be plan A. But the fact that there are that many returning athletes who have scored 9.9s before does mitigate some of the concern.

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