The Arizona GymCats didn’t get a win in Utah to open their season. It would have been a surprise in the gymnastics world if they had. But the numbers the team of largely freshmen and sophomores put up were an encouragement.
Arizona jumped from their No. 24 spot in the preseason poll to No. 15 heading into their home opener against UCLA.
UCLA is a powerhouse, and not just in Pac-12 competition. When the Bruins aren’t the national champions, they’re often the runners-up. This year, though, they didn’t come in as a top 5 team. They didn’t even come in as a top 10 team, sitting just outside at No. 11.
Could the GymCats do something they hadn’t accomplished since 2006 and defeat UCLA?
It was a strong showing for several of the young GymCats. As a team, they also put up a big number on the floor exercise. The problem was putting it all together on all four events.
Serious miscues on the uneven parallel bars and the balance beam ultimately sunk Arizona as the Bruins took the dominant 196.750-195.075 victory. It was especially disappointing since the GymCats had such a solid performance on the beam last week.
“In all honesty, we didn’t perform up to our own standards and expectations,” Arizona head coach John Court said. “And I think that it was silly things. It was we fell on things that you learn to do when you’re six years old and seven years old. And those are lack of concentration. And I said, you should be upset about it. I said you should be dying to get back in the gym on Tuesday and work on that.”
Sophomore Malia Hargrove may eventually perform in all four events. For now, she’s doing three of the four due to an injury to her toe. She paced the team on floor exercise with a 9.90 to tie her career high and added a 9.875 on vault.
“Malia added a more difficult first pass, which was first time that she’s done that pass in almost two years, since she was in high school,” Court said. “So that was really, really good. Really good to see. And just great for her growth, for sure.”
Freshman Jessica Castles was just behind Hargrove on the floor exercise with a 9.875. That matched Castles’ score on the balance beam and just outpaced her 9.825 on vault.
As a group, the GymCats looked like they could hold their own coming out of the gate. After the first rotation, the two teams were locked at 48.975. Then, came the uneven parallel bars and things fell apart.
Sirena Linton started things out with a solid 9.725. She was followed by a 9.60 from Hargrove. Things would still be alright if the GymCats could drop the 9.60.
The problem was that they couldn’t. Hargrove was followed by Taylor Raskin, who scored a 9.050. Next came a 9.250 from Bailey McCabe.
The GymCats closed out with a decent score of 9.70 from MacKinzie Kane and a strong 9.80 from Elena Deets, but the damage was done. When the rotation ended, they trailed UCLA by a score of 98.200 to 97.050.
The balance beam was a contrast of strong gymnastics and unusual miscues. After scoring a 9.90 in her collegiate debut last week, Castles followed it up with a 9.875 this week. Four of the gymnasts scored at least a 9.80, but Arizona was forced to keep Avery Stauffacher’s 9.525 when Mackenzie Barile came off the beam and scored a 9.375.
That made the final rotation a mere formality as far as the final score, but Court did not want them to think that way.
“I probably leaned into them a little bit right after beam,” Court said. “To go out there and embrace the moment and stop worrying about your mistakes that you made earlier. I said, ‘You can’t go back and fix things. History doesn’t work like that.’ But, I said, you can fix what’s going to happen.”
Arizona had a fantastic floor exercise, but the hole they had dug for themselves was too deep and too wide. The Bruins were able to once again walk away from McKale Center with an easy victory.
The GymCats return to McKale Center to face California on Sat., Feb. 6.