Brow, Matteah – Freshman
Bynum, Sadiqua – Senior – VT, FX
Cipra, Angi – Junior – VT, FX (possible BB)
DeJesus, Sophina – Senior – UB, BB, FX
Dennis, Rechelle – Sophomore – possible backup UB
Francis, Danusia – Senior – UB, BB, FX (we all saw that full in Glasgow so no more pretending you can’t VT)
Gerber, Mikaela – Junior – BB, FX
Hall, Pua – Sophomore – FX (VT, please)
Honest, Janay – Sophomore – VT, UB, FX
Lee, Peng Peng – Junior – VT, UB, BB (FX, please)
Meraz, Sonya – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
Metcalf, Melissa – Sophomore – UB
Mossett, Hallie – Junior – UB, BB, FX
Ohashi, Katelyn – Freshman
Preston, Madison – Freshman
Savvidou, Stella – Freshman
Shapiro, Nicki – Freshman
Toronjo, Macy – Freshman – (out with should injury)
2015 – 11th
2014 – 7th
2013 – 4th
2012 – 3rd
2011 – 2nd
2010 – 1st
UCLA has suffered a gradual descent ever since the grand Anna Li coronation of 2010, a descent that picked up a little speed in the last year or so. 11th. The future is certainly bright for the Bruins, as the Ross/Kocian/Ohashi sparkleplosion moves closer and closer to reality, but for the present, the mission is figuring out how to improve on last season’s unconvincing result, now without Sam Peszek to go up 6th and fix all the bad scores.
Even without Her Lady of 9.900s, this remains a talented roster that should be able to put together another cusp-of-Super-Six season. A successful result for UCLA would be built on using the back half of lineups to out-9.9 teams like Michigan, Georgia, and Utah, and given the capabilities of gymnasts like Ohashi, Lee, and Francis, that’s quite possible. If all three are healthy and competing all their events at the end of the year (because apparently we live in a world of make believe), this can still be an extremely impressive team even before Kyla saves everyone just by looking at us. What’s holding the Bruins back from being a favorite right now is the selection of viable supporting scores. Who else is there besides the big three? And can they legitimately bring enough 9.850-9.900 routines to make UCLA a full competitive team rather than just a couple appealing stars and the rest? Which brings me to…
Sophina DeJesus and Angi Cipra. Playtime is over. These two very talented upperclassmen have underachieved so far and must do more this year for the team to thrive. On their best events, and even some of their not-best events, DeJesus and Cipra need to be scoring near the same level as Francis and Lee to give the team a nationally competitive complement of scores. Without Peszek, there’s nowhere for them to hide anymore. They must step up to fill that void and become scoring leaders, not just accessory pieces who occasionally stumble upon a 9.900, because if they don’t who else will? DeJesus has always been capable of starring on beam and floor rather than just getting a 9.800 and a [scene missing]. Floor really should be her best event, and with that Sophina spitfire routine she has this year, the lineup needs her. Cipra is currently the strongest floor worker on the team, and the Bruins now depend on her too much to be able to tolerate those occasional falls and 9.7s from the last two seasons. She has to go 9.9+, and do it every time, along with serious contributions on vault and ideally beam (her beam talent is greater than her no-routines-ever career would suggest).
We can probably put Hallie Mossett in this category as well. This trio needs to have a “by your powers combined” Captain Planet moment to unite and create that final magnificent star gymnast the team needs in order to challenge the best schools.
I count enough vaulters to form an acceptable lineup, but the real worry is going to be difficulty. Most top teams have a few vaulters who did a 1.5 in JO/elite and might be able to bring it back, but the large majority of UCLA vaulters from last season appear maxed out at their current amount of yurchenko twisting. The Bruin vault approach may end up being to squeeze all possible tenths out of fulls rather than going for a bunch of 10.0 SVs. Or, is it vault-teaching time again? Who wants to learn an Omelianchik? The answer should be everybody because it’s the best.
The options returning from last year’s lineup are predominately early lineup/backup vaults, with Cipra capable of a relatively solid-scoring full as long as the landing works out, Meraz and Honest both bringing perfectly OK 9.750-9.800 fulls, Bynum occasionally scoring well for her y1/2 (but also occasionally landing short and getting a 9.7), and Peng vaulting a very beautiful full when she’s able. Peng’s vault is gorgeous, but because of her injury history of “all of them, all the time,” it’s not the kind of vault a lineup can rely on. This returning group looks extremely 49.1 right now, so the new ones are going to have to bring it. At least a little. A little bringing. I’ve been wary about expecting too much from Ohashi on vault and floor just because the high priestess must be protected at all costs, but this lineup needs her. She must vault, as must Preston. Vault was usually Preston’s best event in JO, with a high and very clean full, so if she has sufficiently recovered from her 2015 bout with Mary Lee Leg, she’ll be an integral piece.
Let’s also take a moment to address the Pua Hall situation. Hall was a vault recruit, intended to shore up this lineup in the wake of the “we’re forcing Niki Tom to vault because there’s literally nothing else to do” years. Hall was very strong in JO and has an all-important 1.5 but vaulted a grand total of never last season. That has to change this year. This vaulting squad is too thin to have a 1.5 twiddling her thumbs. If Hall/Preston/Ohashi are actually able to boost the depth, they’ll be looking closer to the 49.250-49.300 territory than the dreaded 49.1s.
Welp, Peng already has a thumb injury, so let’s just cancel bars. The preseason thumb injury strikes a major blow to this lineup because how much bars training is Peng going to be able to do? And when? The team really relies on her here not just to be the best routine but to get those 9.950s to cancel out some early 9.800s. When available, she makes bars an asset event for the Bruins.
DeJesus is critical, even more so when Peng can’t be leaned on. Sophina needs to recover on bars this year and have another 2014 season (9.915 RQS), not a 2015 season (9.845 RQS). The form break on the gienger and the knee-eating dismount landing can hurt her scores, so it’s all the more important that she stick to try to trick everyone into forgetting that those are things. It happens. The other vital returning routine comes from Danusia. It’s a simpler bars routine, with just the double pike dismount, but she has developed into a precise and deduction-free bars worker, getting multiple 9.900s in the leadoff spot last season. The only change that needs to happen with Danusia’s bars is taking a page out of the Rhonda playbook and putting her in the 6th spot to really squeeze out those scores. Her routine is clean enough to take advantage of that. Mossett will also return with a mid-lineup-type routine, much improved post-stalder though still occasionally susceptible to inconsistency of form and getting a weird 9.6.
Ohashi went teetotal on bars for a while after shaking off elite, but she eventually returned to training and will need to use that gorgeous jaeger to be another Peng. As on all the events, her capability is astronomical, so it’s just a matter of where she is physically at this point. There’s a dearth of guaranteed 9.9s on bars, so Ohashi will need to be one. Melissa Metcalf was out last season, but she’s supposed to be a legitimate bars worker and will be called upon for real scores this year as well. If they can actually get this exact group together, it’s a 49.300 team, but we may see the same struggles in figuring out the early lineup positions as last season, when UCLA finished 11th on bars. Other options will come from Meraz and Honest, both of whom were needed last year and will likely see time this year, but again those are 9.750-9.800 routines that would ideally be backups rather than counters.
Beam is the most exciting event for UCLA by several fathoms. Even without Peszek, this is an impressive and beautiful group (if slightly more nerve-wracking, yikes) that should remain one of the top two or three beam lineups in the country. This is where UCLA can earn those big 49.4s and develop a buffer over the teams that are really happy to get a 49.1. The only problem is that it’s beam and will also sometimes be a 48.2 because of beam reasons. Still, rapidly excited clapping for the Francis, Peng, Ohashi trio.
Those three bring serious difficulty, excellent form on both acro and dance, and standout signature skills. All will be in line for 9.9+ for their best work, or sometimes not even their best work. Figuring out the other three spots, however, will be an interesting little road. There’s serious competition for those roles, enough so that the Bruins should eventually be able to settle on a consistent six that also boasts the scoring potential to get into 49.4+ range. This roster has enough beamers that there’s really no excuse for an inconsistent lineup once the season really gets going and the January “exploring depth” 194s are done. Sophina seems the most likely to take one of the remaining spots since she has proven the ability to get 9.9s, even if she sometimes gives away tenths she shouldn’t be giving away. My preference for the other two spots would be the freshmen Preston and Shapiro, both of whom showed beam series in the season preview and have great style on this event, though I still also want to see Cipra get a real shot at making the lineup. Meraz carved out a spot for herself last year because of her extremely solid work. It’s not going to be a huge-scoring routine, but it’s one of the more reliable options if consistency becomes a worry. She can Raisman out a 9.800 for them any time. There’s also Gerber and Mossett, who have competed beam at times and can both be lovely if extremely tentative and heart-attacky.
See? Options. At least 10 that the team could live with. At this point, I kind of wish UCLA could put up 8 beamers and 4 bars workers.
We were given a partial glimpse of this year’s UCLA floor routines already, and while it’s not the full group and is missing some of the essential routines we’ll see this year, there’s a lot to like. The issue for the last couple of years has been that the team’s best dancers, like Sophina, don’t make the floor lineup (so we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out), but for the most part these routines are sporty, energetic, and acrobatic, which I enjoy as a style. Overall, there’s too much miming and mugging for the audience for my taste—which is not usually a feature of UCLA floor routines—but it’s hard to judge that until we see them for realsies. Cipra’s routine has some of my favorite choreography in the group, but the mugging is overpowering in this one. That ringtone is also what I use for an alarm, so her routine automatically makes me feel equally furious and panicked, which I don’t think is what they’re going for. But really, who wants to be reminded of having to talk on the phone when watching gymnastics? Nightmare-themed routine. Of course, we all know the ultimate floor verdict won’t be about choreography. It will be about landings. So they get an incomplete for the moment.
Cipra needs to be the star of the floor group this year. She’s capable of getting huge scores but has often been held back by trying to add the full-in and struggling with the landing. It’s more important for her to have a routine she feels comfortable landing than it is for her to have an E pass. If she’s able to do the full-in, then great, but if not, just keep it down to a double pike and Syd Sawa her in the anchor spot. Sawa got a 10 doing that. Bynum will also be essential here. She has proven the ability to get 9.9s on floor, but she also has a tendency to throw in a short landing and can get hit for not-super-180 dance elements. Hers is not going to be a major score every single time. Danusia should also score exceptionally well and often awesome-flexibilities her way to 9.9s, though the chest-position monster can be an obstacle when she does the whip to double back. That will be something to watch.
The other three spots are open to be won. Ohashi and Sophina showed choreography in the preview, so if the tumbling is actually there and not terrifying, both should be a go for the lineup. Should. Any spots not already filled will need to be taken by the supporting cast of Honest, Mossett, Gerber, and Meraz, all of whom can dance around the 9.800-9.850 area. We also saw Pua Hall at the end of last season, going out of bounds on a seriously misguided double arabian, but she’ll be in the mix as well. It’s a potentially inconsistent group, but if the leaders like Cipra and Bynum can cut out the random 9.700-9.825s, floor should score pretty competitively, especially at home, if lacking the difficulty of other top teams.
Edited to add that I definitely forgot Stella Savvidou was a person, but she’s now with the team as well. Depth! Depth?