2021 – 12th
2020 – 3rd
2019 – 3rd
2018 – 1st
2017 – 4th
2016 – 5th
2015 – 11th
2014 – 8th
2013 – 4th
2012 – 3rd
2021 IN REVIEW
Typically, more alarm bells would be ringing on the heels of one of the weakest results in UCLA program history—12th place and a regionals exit—but…that was exactly what we all expected to happen in 2021. UCLA had just graduated its most decorated class ever, and the intended replacement class all deferred a year because of the COVID times and delayed Olympics, leaving a one-season talent gap. The team did what it could in 2021 with those who were available.
Now, if that kind of result repeats in 2022, then hello alarm bells.
Nia Dennis – VT, UB, BB, FX
Savannah Kooyman – UB, BB
NIcki Shapiro – BB
THE NEW ONES
Phew, deep breath, here we go, it’s a lot. This year, UCLA brings in a first-year class to rival the best this team has ever had, joining the pantheon with the class that started in 2001 after the Sydney Olympics and the class that started in 2017 after the Rio Olympics, both of which won at least one national championship in their time. You could very nearly make a whole top-10 team out of just this first-year class.
Jordan Chiles is fresh off her Olympic silver medal and will look to star in the all-around for this team with lineup-leading scores on all four events. Chiles is among the rare few for whom the DTY in college seems a legitimate possibility for vault, and she’ll have a Mary Poppins bag of difficult tumbling that she can also land well to produce an anchor-quality floor routine. Those should be her best college events, though given UCLA’s returning roster, it may be the crisp routines Chiles delivers on bars and beam that become the most important. She retained the double pike beam dismount at Meet the Bruins, and even though it hurt me in the sacrum, it’s another possible standout element without too much risk (for her), even on one of her “lesser” events.
Now let’s talk about Brooklyn Moors, the floor worker of a generation, who will be a vital delight in that lineup and is also working a 10.0 start handspring pike 1/2 that looks competition realistic and absolutely essential for this team. Check and check. Bars and beam always seemed an inch away from being off the rails for Moors in elite and are therefore less certain for college, but definitely possible—and potentially ideal if this team is to reach its peak. Her toe point and leg form on bars, her elegance and originality on beam, are precious resources.
There were multiple years in there when Emma Malabuyo looked like she was on the fast train toward a “two exhibition routines and a medical retirement” college career, so the fact that she had such a strong elite season in 2021 and has showed up providing legitimate lineup-ready-in-mid-December-even-though-this-is-UCLA routine options on all four events is a huge win for this team, and all of us. Most importantly, Malabuyo will provide an undeniable beam routine that can get preposterous scores, but bars also looks like a very strong choice.
Emily Lee would be the highlight of the class most years and has college-star gymnastics on all four events, though the torn Achilles from Olympics Trials has put a wrench in our expectations, at least in the short term. The timing of the injury was such that it shouldn’t necessarily jeopardize the entire season for her, but I’m not forming any expectations for vault and floor this year. Bars should come back first, and at her best, Lee is going to be one of the highlight beamers on this squad.
Injuries ultimately derailed what looked like it was going to be a sure-thing spot on the Tokyo team for Ana Padurariu, and that will continue to influence her college career and expectations of how many events she can compete. Still, she is a casual world beam silver medalist that UCLA would be best suited having in its final lineup with so many high-quality skill options, and bars should at least present a possibility.
It will be interesting to watch the path of Alexis Jeffrey on this team because she’s someone who probably would have competed the all-around, or at least three events, last season. Her scores would have counted all over the place. This year, there’s a possibility that the team is so deep that she gets relegated to backup status, though her bars routine at Meet the Bruins looked lineup ready and would have been in the six if that were a real meet, so keep an eye on that. As for Mia Erdoes, she may not compete on this team but does have some Sara Ulias vibes in her bars ability.
Welcome to the fool’s errand of ever attempting to preview a UCLA season. Can you preview smoke? Can you bottle the wind? Who even knows what’s going to happen with these lineups. It’s always an adventure. But, given the down year in 2021 and the immense talent UCLA brings in this time around, improvement on last season’s performance is a given. Even the barest minimum expectation for 2022 is more than just improvement.
Now, whether this improvement takes the form of a team that reaches the final four—which is completely doable for this roster and should be treated as the legitimate aim—will be a matter of just how much gymnastics UCLA gets out of this first-year class. Because it needs to be all of it. If this class is constantly semi-injured, “taking time to make the college adjustment,” popping up here and there and not really doing the AA or competing every meet, it’s going to be a long season where the Bruins are scraping by to try to make nationals. If, however, they’re healthy and hitting and contributing ~50% of the team’s final-lineup routines, then reaching the championship is realistic.
2021 Event Ranking: 8
|Lineup locks: Jordan Chiles, Chae Campbell, Brooklyn Moors, Kendal Poston|
|Lineup options: Sekai Wright, Pauline Tratz, Emma Malabuyo, Alexis Jeffrey, Margzetta Frazier, Katie McNamara, Emma Andres, Emily Lee|
UCLA has lost its best-scoring vault from last season—the Yurchenko full from Nia Dennis—but the fact that a Yfull was the team’s best vault (even an excellent one like Dennis’s) tells us that there is room to improve, and requirement to improve in 2022. Essential for that improvement, UCLA will be looking to add 10.0 starts from both Jordan Chiles and Brooklyn Moors to the business end of this lineup to increase the likelihood of getting high 9.8s and 9.9s from a few more positions. Settling for 9.825s into the middle of the lineup is not a recipe for a competitive vault total.
With them, Chae Campbell will surely return since her Yfull was outscoring most 10.0 starts last season, and the Bruins will likely continue leaning on the handspring pike 1/2 from Kendal Poston. Poston’s vault doesn’t get the very highest scores, typically because of chest position, but should score well enough week-in, week-out to be useful. Ideally, the Y1.5 from Sekai Wright will be available when it matters, but Wright has not been able to compete consistently over her career, so some other fulls will be called upon to fill positions, both in a final lineup and throughout the season. I remain partial to Pauline Tratz’s Yfull as the best option in terms of position and distance, but Emma Malabuyo looks like she’s bringing a clean possibility, and Alexis Jeffrey will be in the mix as well. UCLA probably wants to be able to shift Marz Frazier’s full to backup duty this year because the built-in pike deduction will keep it from scoring at the level they need, but it remains a viable option.
Also keep in mind that transfer Katie McNamara brings a 10.0-start round-off, full-on back tuck. It’s tough to score well with that vault because of amplitude, but she did go as high as 9.875 for Washington last year, but UCLA should be interested in trying to continue developing that vault as a different look and additional 10.0.
2021 Event Ranking: 10
|Lineup locks: Margzetta Frazier, Norah Flatley, Jordan Chiles|
|Lineup options: Frida Esparza, Sara Ulias, Emma Malabuyo, Alexis Jeffrey, Chae Campbell, Brooklyn Moors, Ana Padurariu, Emily Lee, Kalyany Steele, Sara Taubman, Mia Erdoes|
UCLA is fairly spoiled on bars this year with a ton of very believable choices, which means it’s going to take some work to figure out who is not just a good 9.850 (there are plenty) but who is a trustworthy 9.9. Among returners, I’d feel confident only in Marz Frazier, who is still going to be the best and most refined bars worker on the team in 2022, and Norah Flatley, who didn’t get to compete much last season but whose bars work is just too damn lovely not to be in there. A successful UCLA bars in 2022 means that those winning spots are the ones with the most wonderful form, not just the ones whose routines you’re least scared of.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see more returners than just Frazier and Flatley, but it will depend on how many spots end up being available and who is sticking enough to earn them. Frida Esparza is at her best on bars and should score well enough to be a very useful lineup member, Chae Campbell was always dependable for 9.850 in the leadoff spot last year, and Sara Ulias pretty legitimately became the #2 bars worker on this team last season. All three will see at least some time.
As for the new ones, Jordan Chiles should be a lock here. She doesn’t get as much attention for her bars because her elite D score wasn’t the highest, but her efficient, legs-together position on her piked Tkatchev to Pak is the foundation of a very good college score. Bars is also one of Emma Malabuyo’s most likely events, and as mentioned, Alexis Jeffrey is making a very good case. Any of these gymnasts could realistically knock out a Campbell or an Ulias from the lineup if they show 9.9s in their early opportunities. Meanwhile, if Brooklyn Moors can get consistent composition with a workable dismount (her elite dismount probably wouldn’t get the college scores), I like her for this lineup because her Shap + Pak and toe point has always been a dream. In the wonderful form department, she’s up there.
How much UCLA improves on bars in 2022 remains a question, but this isn’t going to be a season where Pauline Tratz is asked to do a bars routine and then it’s literally the third-best one, so some improvement is a given.
2021 Event Ranking: 19
|Lineup locks: Norah Flatley, Emma Malabuyo, Jordan Chiles|
|Lineup options: Emily Lee, Ana Padurariu, Samantha Sakti, Brooklyn Moors, Chae Campbell, Frida Esparza, Alexis Jeffrey, Margzetta Frazier, Kendal Poston, Katie McNamara|
More than anything, UCLA has to get it together on beam this year. Last year wasn’t good, even by the standard of that depleted roster, and (nearly) an entire refresh may be in order. There are fully six lineup routines in this freshman class if needed.
Of course, Norah Flatley must return to the lineup since she delivers the team’s best-executed routine, though she may have some competition in that department from Emma Malabuyo, whose routine is looking excellent and ready for a place of honor in the six. It’s one of the few sure-thing spots among these lineups that still look so up in the air. Jordan Chiles should be a given here as well, though beyond that, there’s not a lot that seems obvious.
A healthy Emily Lee is going to be a dream on beam, so hopefully we’ll see that this year, and this is Ana Padurariu’s most likely lineup as well. Padurariu’s rodeo(?)-themed beam routine is packed, currently with more bonus than required, which should allow for adaptation as needed during the season. The story for Brooklyn Moors is similar to bars where, with the right composition, this routine can be a winner since her only weakness on beam in elite was whether she was going to hit.
As for returners, I was pleased to see a compositional change for Samantha Sakti at Meet the Bruins, ditching the standing layout stepouts for something that looks more hitable. That move could reclaim her place in the lineup for the 2022 season. I would also keep Chae Campbell in the front of the pack here. She really started to find her confidence on beam at the end of last season and that should translate to continuing high scores. I’d imagine that the influx of new and exciting beam means that returners like Frazier and Poston and Esparza may not be called upon this year—even though Frazier had a breakthrough beam year last season as she stepped up her comfort and consistency on the event—but they’ll be right in the mix as options.
There really should be 9.9s sitting on the sidelines this year because there are more than six believable 9.9 beams on this team.
2021 Event Ranking: 6
|Lineup locks: Brooklyn Moors, Chae Campbell, Jordan Chiles, Margzetta Frazier|
|Lineup options: Pauline Tratz, Emma Malabuyo, Norah Flatley, Sekai Wright, Emma Andres, Alexis Jeffrey, Chloe Lashbrooke, Katie McNamara, Sara Ulias, Emily Lee|
Floor was UCLA’s best event last year and has no business being anything other than the team’s best event this year (and possibly the best floor in the nation) given the level of impressiveness among this lineup’s stars. That also makes this lineup a little easier to put together because there are more gymnasts here who absolutely, definitely, must, no question, certainly, completely be in this lineup.
Brooklyn Moors is the floor performer of the decade (at least), and whether she ends up competing her Podkopayeva in college is almost incidental because she could cough as two of her tumbling passes and still warrant a 10. Jordan Chiles will be right up there delivering huge tumbling passes, while also no longer having to do things like a double wolf turn to create an elite floor routine. Just the good stuff. Contrary to what Tom Forster might have said, Chiles has never done anything resembling a college floor routine before, and being fully unleashed to do college floor for the first time should suit her well.
Among returners, Chae Campbell had the best floor on the team last season both choreographically and skill-ographically, went 9.9 in over 80% of her routines, and really the only question for her this year is whether she’s going to get a 10 yet. It will be a huge score pretty much every single time. The final link here and most important task on floor this year is to get Marz Frazier some routine composition that lives up to her floor ability. Last season, she was out there with fantastic tumbling, performance quality and star presence that few could ever dream of, and then this deduction-burger of a jump combination. How is she supposed to go viral if she’s getting 9.850? These are the questions.
With that four, UCLA can cruise to huge numbers, and as for the rest, I like Pauline Tratz as a frontrunner to return to the lineup. She was also the most prepared and best-looking one on floor at Meet the Bruins. Speaking of MTB, Norah Flatley showed up going, “Hello triple full,” which moved her up several places in the depth chart for a routine that previously looked unnecessary to force along because her bars and beam are so much more important. That may still be true, but she’s an option here, as is Emma Malabuyo, who is currently showing simpler composition but doing it very cleanly for the kind of routine that would go 9.925 at home with a double tuck just to piss off Utah. Very reasonable options all, and more beyond that.