LOS ANGELES — Second-ranked UCLA won its season opener against Southern Utah on Sunday, defeating the Thunderbirds 196.150-194.875 in the Bruins’ first meet back in New Pauley Pavilion. The crowd of 3,018 saw several collegiate debut performances, as the Bruins replaced half of their competition lineup from last year’s NCAA Championship.
Of the 12 returning routines, one-third came from fifth-year senior Vanessa Zamarripa, who won the all-around with a 39.475, tied for first on balance beam with a 9.875 and won floor exercise with a career-high 9.975. Other event winners for UCLA were junior Olivia Courtney on vault (9.875) and senior Lichelle Wong and freshman Sophina DeJesus on bars (9.9).
Four Bruins made their collegiate competitive debuts – freshmen DeJesus and Danusia Francis and sophomores Dana McDonald and Sadiqua Bynum. DeJesus scored 9.8 or better on all three of her events, going 9.9 on bars (T-1st), 9.8 on beam (T-3rd) and 9.825 on floor (5th). Francis scored 9.775 on bars and tied with DeJesus for third on beam with a 9.8. McDonald made a triumphant return from an Achilles injury suffered last February, making her competitive debut on vault (9.75, T-5th) and floor (9.85, 4th). Bynum, who had not competed at all since 2011, made her debut with a counting routine on floor and an exhibition on vault.
After one rotation, the Bruins led Southern Utah by just .050 after scoring 48.850 on vault to the Thunderbirds’ 48.800 on bars. The Bruins were led by Courtney’s 9.875. Zamarripa, completing a Yurchenko half-on, front layout half, piked her vault a bit and scored 9.825 to place second. Senior Kaelie Baer earned a 9.8 to place third.
UCLA pulled away in the second rotation, scoring 49.3 on uneven bars. Wong and DeJesus led the way with scores of 9.9. Mattie Larson also had a solid routine, scoring 9.875 to place third. Southern Utah’s 48.6 on vault gave the Bruins a 0.75 advantage at the halfway mark.
On balance beam in rotation three, the Bruins had to count a fall, but got four strong routines from leadoff Baer (9.775), Francis (9.8), DeJesus (9.8) and Zamarripa (9.875) to total 48.525 as a team. The Thunderbirds inched closer after scoring 48.6 on floor, giving UCLA a 146.675-146.000 lead going into the final rotation.
McDonald led off with a routine that scored 9.85. Bynum started strong in her routine, but could not hang on to the landing on her final pass. DeJesus followed with a 9.825 score that split the judges (9.9 from one, 9.75 from the other), and the Bruin veterans took over from there. Pritchett tied her career-high with a 9.9, Courtney scored 9.925, and Zamarripa set a career-best with a 9.975, earning a perfect 10 from one of the two judges. The Bruins finished on floor with a 49.475 and a final team score of 196.150. Southern Utah’s beam score of 48.875 sealed its highest season-opening score of all-time (194.875).
“I feel like we’re very young,” UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field said. “We’re counting on a lot of routines from our freshmen, and they’re responding beautifully. I think they’re becoming crowd favorites very quickly. Even though we have quite a few veterans out there, I still feel like we’re competing a lot of freshmen routines. We have a lot of girls coming back from surgeries, and this is their first time back in quite a while. I think it was great for them to get out their nerves, and I’m thrilled that we got through healthy.”