Almost as popular UCLA gymnasts performing viral floor routines are their backup dancers. Behind every internet-breaking UCLA performance, whether it was Katelyn Ohashi or Nia Dennis, there is always a line of teammates, dancing along, smiling and clapping.
This year, junior Kalyany Steele dubbed the phenomenon “sidelineography.” And with their season in the balance, every smile and shimmy matters for the Bruins.
Needing their best meets of the year to stay in national championship contention, UCLA will rely on its sideline energy to fortify its “Bruin bubble” during an eight-team, two-round NCAA regional beginning Thursday.
The 14th-ranked Bruins will compete against No. 3 Michigan, Maryland and North Carolina in Raleigh N.C., at 4 p.m. PT on Thursday. No. 6 Louisiana State and No. 11 Missouri lead Thursday’s morning session that also includes host North Carolina State and Iowa. The top two teams from each session will advance to Saturday’s regional final. The best two teams Saturday move on to the NCAA championships April 14-16 in Fort Worth .
Last season, UCLA missed the cut for nationals as a team for the first time since 2016. With the top freshman class in the country, the Bruins were determined to return to the top stage this season. Then internal strife between coaches and gymnasts threatened to derail the season before it began.
For much of the season, simply repairing morale was more important than sticking the perfect landing. The Bruins finally found momentum in a string of three home meets to end the regular season.
Motivated by the postseason stakes and the “common goal of going to nationals,” senior Pauline Tratz said the team has been closer than ever during the past two weeks. It showed during the Pac-12 championships March 19 in West Valley City, Utah, where UCLA had its best road score of the season.
But the 196.95-point total was still only good enough for fourth in the conference, and the meet continued a trend of slow starts on the road after UCLA faltered on vault in the first rotation. Early mistakes continued into the second event before the Bruins recovered on beam and floor.
“We have really good gymnastics training, but so much of this is about coming out and having that energy from the first second,” coach Chris Waller said. “It’s not just the person on the event. It’s the whole team. It’s not frenetic energy, it’s simply positive, good energy focused on the competitor. And our team thrives in that environment.”
UCLA calls the successful ecosystem its “Bruin bubble.” At Pauley Pavilion, it’s easy to create. With the help of cheering fans and dancing students, the Bruins are a top-10 team at home. Their average home score of 197.385 would rank eighth in the country.
But their average road score of 196.085 points is just 26th.
“It’s like indestructible,” sophomore Chae Campbell said of the team’s bond when everyone is locked in. “When we’re in our ‘Bruin bubble,’ it just gets bigger and bigger throughout the meet. … The key is getting into it sooner.”
The Bruins even practiced pumping up their energy to fit the postseason format. While gymnasts are usually spotted on surrounding the floor or watching from both sides of the beam, teams must instead stand in corrals during postseason meets. The limited movement could easily hamper energy in the arena.
At their “dress rehearsal” practice, the Bruins practiced cheering while standing together in one area. They worked on dancing along with a teammate’s routine while standing shoulder-to-shoulder, hoping the perfect postseason “sidelineography” can help carry them to nationals.