After leading all the way through the first three rotations, the Bruins had let both the Wolverines and Tigers back into it.
UCLA gymnastics approached the balance beam still tied for first place at the NCAA Raleigh Regional, but three of their first four scores on the event failed to break 9,800. Freshman Emma Malabuyo stepped up needing a major hit, and that’s exactly what she did.
Malabuyo scored a 9,975, putting the Bruins at 197,400 on the day.
But moments later, Missouri had a chance to answer on floor. Amari Celestine did just that, and despite seemingly stepping out of bounds on her first pass, she provided the Tigers the 9,925 they needed to advance to nationals in two weeks.
UCLA, just seconds after getting Malabuyo’s score, was left to pack their bags and head back to Westwood.
Coach Chris Waller said he hadn’t seen the replay of Celestine’s possible infraction, even though his phone had been buzzing for over an hour about the controversial no-call. Still, teams cannot protest other schools’ scores, only their own, so Waller and the Bruins had no options – their season was over.
It hasn’t happened all too often that UCLA has broken down in the final moments of a meet, since they have closed on floor each of their past five outings. The Bruins led off on floor this time around, and their performance on the discipline helped them get out to their early lead.
Senior Sekai Wright stumbled early and got stuck with a 9,675, but the next five scores each improved on the last to string together a 49,550 for the team. Freshman Brooklyn Moors posted a 9,875, Malabuyo and senior Pauline Tratz went for 9,900, freshman Jordan Chiles scored a 9,925 and sophomore Chae Campbell anchored with a 9,950.
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The ceiling was not quite a high on vault, and UCLA did have to count two 9.800s, but Chiles, Wright and Campbell each broke 9.900 to lift the Bruins to a 49.325 on the second rotation.
While UCLA improved on uneven bars with a 49,400, their lead shrunk to zero once Michigan got its turn on floor. Again, it was Chiles who led the way with a 9,950, and senior Norah Flatley put up a 9,900 of her own.
Flatley had competed in the all-around Thursday and had been filling that role for months, but she said she decided to opt out of floor and beam for her own physical and mental well-being.
Without Flatley on beam, the Bruins had to turn to a new rotation. After freshman Ana Padurariu led off with a 9.800, Chiles followedup her three previous hits with a 9.750.
Sophomore Frida Esparza matched that 9,750, then Campbell put up 9,775. Waller said the judges were scoring their beam routines tightly and that that led to the gymnasts performing more tight than usual.
Senior Samantha Sakti’s 9.825 and Malabuyo’s 9.975 kept UCLA in the running, but the final blow from Missouri sent the blue and gold from first the third in the span of one rotation.
Michigan and Missouri will therefore be the teams moving on to the NCAA championships later in April, and while Flatley and Chiles are set to compete as individuals, they will not be joined by the rest of their team.
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