A New Mentality For Kyla Ross In UCLA's Title-Winning Season

Kyla Ross has competed on some of the biggest stages in elite gymnastics—the Olympic Games in London, the World Championships in Belgium and China. She was a two-time world all-around medalist and was the silver medalist at back-to-back national championships.

When she began competing at UCLA nearly a year after announcing her retirement from elite gymnastics, Ross wasn’t competing in the all-around. She competed on three events—vault, bars, and beam—in every meet of the season. She appeared on floor exercise just four times with her season-best 9.825 coming in the NCAA semifinals.

But the 2018 season was a bit different. 

The Bruins unveiled multiple E-passes during the preseason “Meet the Bruins” event and showed a readiness on floor that wasn’t quite there during previous seasons.

But stepping back into the all-around proved to be the biggest challenge for the decorated former elite.

“I think this season just being able to compete all-around consistently, I’ve definitely had to keep up with my rehab and recovery a lot,” the sophomore said. “I think our whole team has been [good] with what we need  to keep us healthy and make sure we’re recovered because it is a long season and we do have to compete every week.”

Ross struggled on her final pass at the preseason event—the same pass she struggled on throughout the 2017 season.

When the season began, the sophomore flipped a switch.

“Personally, for me, I’ve gotten in a lot better shape this year and changing my mental thinking especially going into my last pass,” Ross said before the NCAA championships. “I know that was always a struggle; I always had some doubt in my mind last year. I think this year, Jo [Jordyn Wieber] just really helped me instill confidence in my last pass. So I’ve been able to contribute consistently on floor.”

She competed on floor in 11 of 15 competitions and scored a 9.875 or better in 10 of those routines. Her only score below that came in the first rotation of the Super Six finals when she put her hands down after her double pike.

In the biggest competition of the season, Ross and her teammates could have panicked; it was likely going to take a near-perfect performance to topple top-seeded Oklahoma. 

They didn’t. It was a lesson they’d carried throughout the season.

“I think the biggest thing that we’ve learned as a team this year is to always hit the refresh button,” Ross said. “Just going into every routine and every skill knowing that you can just leave your mind blank and go and give it your all with full confidence is definitely a key to coming back from a fall.”

The Bruins hit refresh after Ross’ fall with Pauline Tratz, Felicia Hano, and Katelyn Ohashi each scoring 9.8875s or better to help UCLA finish with a 49.4625. The lesson continued in the final rotation of the meet when Madison Kocian came off the beam in the second spot in the lineup. Brielle Nguyen—followed by Ohashi, Ross, and Christine Peng Peng Lee—came roaring back and didn’t score below a 9.875.

Flash back to the midway point of the season when UCLA faced some of its toughest competition: a pair of home meets against top-seeded Oklahoma and rival Utah in the span of three weeks. The Bruins lost both of those meets by a combined 0.225 and it only pushed them more throughout the rest of the way.

“I think having a lot of meets this season against some of our biggest competitors has really helped us and kept us hungry all season,” Ross said. “I think just coming up so short against Oklahoma and Utah I think that really showed that we’re able to compete with them. After those meets we went back into the gym and just trained the details to prepare us for postseason because we definitely want to go out there and give it our all and come back with a national championship.”

The preparation paid off. Ross finished tied for second on balance beam, was third on bars, and fourth in the all-around during the semifinal competition.

During Super Six finals, she scored a 9.950 to cap off a stellar uneven bars rotation that got the Bruins back in it and hit a near-perfect 9.9875 on beam to set up Lee’s meet-clinching perfect 10. UCLA won its seventh NCAA title with a 198.075 team total. The Bruins posted an NCAA championship record 49.750 on beam to close out the meet.

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