The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

2023 UCLA Bruins

Previewing the 2023 UCLA gymnastics team

UCLA BRUINS

Super Seniors

Margzetta Frazier

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • Competed 1 UB for 9.525 in 2022

  • 2021 NQS of 9.944 UB, 9.913 FX, 9.869 BB, 9.844 VT

Seniors

Emma Andres

FX

  • Did not compete in 2022

  • NQS of 9.819 on FX in 2021

Paige Hogan


  • Did not compete in 2022

Chloe Lashbrooke

BB
FX

  • Did not compete in 2022 or 2021

  • NQS of 9.860 on FX in 2020

Kalyany Steele


  • Competed 2 UBs in 2022 for 9.800, 9.675

Juniors

Chae Campbell

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #1 returning score on VT (9.920)

  • #2 returning score on FX (9.930), UB (9.840)

  • #3 returning score on BB (9.865)

Frida Esparza

UB
BB
FX

  • Competed 6 UBs in 2022, avg 9.875

  • Competed 1 BB (9.750), 1 FX (9.650)

Katie McNamara

UB
FX

  • Competed 2 FXs in 2022 for 9.775, 9.675

Sara Ulias

UB
FX

  • Competed 5 UBs (avg 9.490), 3 FXs (avg 9.800) in 2022

Sophomores

Jordan Chiles

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #1 returning score on FX (9.950), UB (9.945)

  • #2 returning score on VT (9.895)

  • #4 returning score on BB (9.790)

Mia Erdoes

BB

  • Did not compete in first season

Emily Lee

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • Missed first season with Achilles injury

  • 3rd AA, 2021 Winter Cup

Emma Malabuyo

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #1 returning score on BB (9.910)

  • #3 returning score on VT (9.825), UB (9.820)

  • #4 returning score on FX (9.875)

Brooklyn Moors

VT
BB
FX

  • #3 returning score on FX (9.895)

  • NQS of 9.785 on VT in 2022

  • Competed 4 BBs, avg 9.594

Ana Padurariu

UB
BB

  • #2 returning score on BB (9.890)

  • NQS of 9.770 on UB

First Years

Ciena Alipio

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • Midwest

  • 1st AA, 2019 American Classic

Maddie Anyimi

VT
UB
FX

  • Technique

  • 15th AA, 2022 L10 Nationals

Selena Harris

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • GymCats

  • 1st AA, 2021 & 2022 L10 Nationals

Clara Wren

VT

  • Coastal

  • 5th UB, 2022 Region 1s

Ranking History
2022 – 12th
2021 – 12th
2020 – 3rd
2019 – 3rd
2018 – 1st
2017 – 4th
2016 – 5th
2015 – 11th
2014 – 8th
2013 – 4th
2012 – 3rd

Where 2022 Finished…

Just another normal season totally free of drama and angst. We all had a great, healthy time. What doesn’t kill you makes you much, much weaker. The bottom line is that UCLA finished 12th for a second consecutive year in 2022, the first time in program history that UCLA has missed nationals in back-to-back seasons. While 2021 could be considered an outlier year in which COVID deferrals lead to a one-season talent gap, all that talent arrived in 2022 for what ended up being the exact same finish and exact same regionals exit.  

Now, a new coaching regime will be tasked with stopping the bleeding and bringing UCLA at the very least back to nationals, if not to the championship final. That may seem like a leap given the way the last two seasons played out but should absolutely be the expectation for a roster this good. 

Gains and Losses

LOSTGAINED
Norah Flatley – VT, UB, BB, FXCiena Alipio
Pauline Tratz – FX (VT)Selena Harris
Kendal Poston – VT (BB)Maddie Anyimi
Samantha Sakti – BB (FX)Clara Wren
Sekai Wright – VT, FX
Sara Taubman – (UB)

The New Ones

While this year’s sophomore class is the big one, the one that will need to carry the team if this is to be a successful season, expect to see a chunk of lineup gymnastics from first-year athletes. The star of this class is going to be Selena Harris, the two-time L10 AA national champion who won the all-around in 75% of her post-COVID meets. It’s tough to project the all-around for a L10 athlete on a team with this many big names, but…yeah she should be in every lineup, probably toward the end of most of them. 

The most recognizable name in the class is Ciena Alipio, the five-year elite who most recently won the silver medal on beam at 2022 US Nationals. We did not see anything from Alipio at Meet the Bruins, but beam is her main one. That’s where she should really figure for this team (a stacked event already), though with refined college gymnastics skill selection you could definitely see clean bars and floor, and a Yfull on vault, that work their way into lineups.

Maddie Anyimi is a walk-on who came on very strongly at the end of the 2022 L10 season at states-regionals-nationals with results that we hadn’t seen from her before (she went from 41st as a junior in 2021 to 15th as a senior in 2022), and she continued that upward trajectory at Meet the Bruins with realistic routines on vault, bars, and floor. When everyone’s healthy, she’s going to be a backup on those events, but a completely usable backup who—depending on how intact the rest of the team is, or stays—seems like she could end up having a Sonya Meraz-style walk-on career where she’s just constantly necessary.

Clara Wren rounds out the class with a handspring pike on vault, where the project will be to see if that can become a handspring pike 1/2 for 10.0 start in an “I’m the Kendal Poston now” kind of way.

Event by Event

VAULT

2022 Event Ranking: 12

Lineup locks: Jordan Chiles, Chae Campbell, Selena Harris
Lineup options: Brooklyn Moors, Emma Malabuyo, Emily Lee, Maddie Anyimi, Margzetta Frazier, Ciena Alipio, Katie McNamara, Clara Wren

Vault is probably the worry event for UCLA this season, with the smallest supply of excellent routines. There’s good news at the top of the lineup, where they’ll have the DTY from Jordan Chiles and the Yfull from Chae Campbell, which was the team’s top-scoring vault last season and probably will be again this season despite being a full. Selena Harris’s Y1.5 is already absolutely necessary in this lineup and will be a top-3 vault at minimum this year.

After those three locks, however, we start to have questions. The next-best returning score on vault comes from Emma Malabuyo, who had a pretty Yfull last season, but it was still a 9.825y Yurchenko full. That’s not a score that a top team wants to count on vault, let alone rely on in the 3rd spot.

The best-case plan for UCLA to improve contention on vault would be getting Emily Lee into the lineup with some manner of difficulty (considering that her DTY was always good for over 14 in elite) as well as getting Brooklyn Moors back in. Moors was in the lineup for most of the beginning of last season with her 10.0-start handspring pike 1/2, and UCLA will be eager to get that to a place where it can score more than 9.850 this year. With those two in, you wouldn’t mind as much a lower-9.8 Yurchenko full in the first spot from Malabuyo. Or if not her, then Anyimi or Frazier or Alipio.

The risk for UCLA here is starting out in the first three spots with 9.775-9.800-9.825, which is not bad but puts a lot of pressure on the final three to get…well basically 10s if UCLA is going to stay close with the teams that expect to go all-9.9+, which is what the top vault teams will expect this year.

BARS

2022 Event Ranking: 19

Lineup locks: Margzetta Frazier, Jordan Chiles, Selena Harris, Emily Lee
Lineup options: Chae Campbell, Frida Esparza, Emma Malabuyo, Ana Padurariu, Sara Ulias, Ciena Alipio, Maddie Anyimi, Kalyany Steele, Katie McNamara

Things are looking up on bars for UCLA—a combination of new talent, newly healthy talent, and hiring probably the most pursued bars coach in the country as the new head coach. It would be a huge surprise indeed if UCLA were to rank something like 19th on this event again.

In terms of additions to last season’s group, UCLA will aim to have Marz Frazier back in the anchor position going 9.9+ each time, as well as lineup sets from Selena Harris and Emily Lee. Bars was typically Lee’s low score in elite, but her routine should pare down well for NCAA and looked very encouraging form-wise at Meet the Bruins despite an error on the Pak. Having those three in the lineup this year should more than make up for not having Norah Flatley anymore, and of course Jordan Chiles will return performing twice as much difficulty as necessary (literally, she has 1.2 in bonus and you need 0.6 to start from a 10) for one of the team’s best scores.

This increase in top-level options should allow UCLA to be pickier about who the remaining routines are as they aim to ratchet up that NQS. I’d be partial to Frida Esparza as the gymnast with the best scoring potential among everyone not mentioned yet, though we did not see her do anything at MTB. Chae Champell would seem an odds-on bet to return to the lineup as well. It’s not going to be the highest score from Campbell, but she has been such a constant for 9.8s in that first position for her whole career that you wouldn’t throw that aside too casually.

This six, however, would leave out both Emma Malabuyo and Ana Padurariu, two gymnasts with top-six form on the bars but who struggled with dismount consistency enough last season that their scores were not the highest and their positions might not be a given this time around. But get them some consistency, and you could absolutely see weekly 9.9s from them and see them knocking out an Esparza or a Lee or a Campbell. There’s also the Sara Ulias factor, a gymnast who had quite legitimately the second-best execution in the bars lineup in her first season but who was not able to follow that up in 2022. Still a potential wildcard.

BEAM

2022 Event Ranking: 12

Lineup locks: Emma Malabuyo, Jordan Chiles, Emily Lee, Selena Harris, Ana Padurariu
Lineup options: Ciena Alipio, Chae Campbell, Margzetta Frazier, Frida Esparza, Brooklyn Moors, Chloe Lashbrooke, Mia Erdoes

Much has been made of UCLA’s beam issues lately, but unlike a typical Balance Beam Situation, the problem in 2022 was not the massive implosion. The team counted a fall on beam just once the entire season, a record most beam squads would bite your sequin off for. The problem was more that suddenly Chiles and Campbell and Moors would all go 9.775 and the score was lost without us even really noticing that something was going that wrong. Every week. Chiles broke the 9.8 mark on beam only four times during the entire 2022 season (she was sub-9.8 in 60% of her beam routines), which remains shocking. If Jordan Chiles is scoring 9.750, everyone stop what you’re doing until she’s getting 9.950.

The beam roster should be quite stacked for UCLA in 2023. Malabuyo will probably score more 10s and can be the national beam champion, Emily Lee is most at home on beam and should get her best results on this apparatus, and Harris has the combination of dance and acro comfort to get huge results. Add back in Jordan Chiles not getting 9.7s, and the team’s #2 and #3 returning beam scores from Ana Padurariu and Chae Campbell, and that’s an excellent lineup of routines, all of which can envision getting 9.9s, even before throwing in Ciena Alipio, whom we would imagine should be a top beam worker in college. They can’t all fit.

The beam goal should always be to have 9.9s sitting on the sidelines being pissed off that they can’t get a look at the lineup (I mean smiling for their sisters) because the six are just too good.

Ideally we would see Brooklyn Moors make her way back into this lineup after performing beam 4 times in 2022 because of just how much I would prefer to watch that routine, but she’s going to have to prove a level of consistency she has not done yet in order to knock out a couple of the aforementioned seven. It’s no easy task. There’s also Marz Frazier to keep in mind here who, after not really seeming comfortable on beam early in her college career, made the 2021 lineup with a mid-9.8s NQS, a score that wouldn’t automatically break into the lineup on this team but could challenge. 

FLOOR

2022 Event Ranking: 12

Lineup locks: Chae Campbell, Jordan Chiles, Brooklyn Moors, Margzetta Frazier
Lineup options: Selena Harris, Emma Malabuyo, Emily Lee, Maddie Anyimi, Ciena Alipio, Chloe Lashbrooke, Katie McNamara

UCLA will look back on 2022’s floor team as one that should have been ranked #1 in the country after bringing in Jordan Chiles and Brooklyn Moors but never got there. In 2023, UCLA will aim to get 9.950s and 10.000s out of Campbell and Chiles pretty much every week, as well as continue refining composition choices that ensure Moors and Frazier get the scores that their performance quality warrants. You don’t want Moors getting tripped up by a wonky combination pass and Frazier having an out of control dance connection that keeps them out of the 9.9s. With those four leading the way, UCLA should consider anything less than 49.5-away/49.6-home a missed opportunity on floor. If it were me, I would lead off the lineup with Moors because if anyone can “but my artistry” a 9.9+ at home even if she’s off on a landing, it’s her. And then Malabuyo goes normal-clean-crisp in the second spot for 9.950 and you’re off to the races.

As for the remaining routines outside the Campbell-Chiles-Frazier-Moors leadership quorum, you probably want them coming from some combination of Malabuyo, Harris, and Lee—with the occasional contribution from Lashbrooke and Anyimi. Malabuyo really started to find her 9.9s on floor at the end of last season, Selena Harris typically mastered “this double pike is easy for me” floor scores, and Emily Lee was really making waves on floor in her last year or so of elite with that strong DLO. There should be more than enough options here.

%d bloggers like this: