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UCLA’s Norah Flatley made a memorable season debut on the beam Friday, scoring a team-high 9.875 in the event as No. 13 UCLA shook off a shaky start and finished second in an NCAA regional semifinal in Morgantown, W. Va., to advance to Saturday’s final.
Flatley missed the entire regular season because of an ankle injury and only cracked the uneven bars lineup at the Pac-12 championships two weeks ago. When the Bruins needed her to deliver Friday to avoid counting a fall on beam, Flatley didn’t flinch.
“She’s the beam queen on UCLA’s gymnastics team,” Bruins coach Chris Waller said.
UCLA’s 197.05 total score was just 0.05 points below its season best but still well behind No. 4 Michigan, which scored a 197.65 to win the second semifinal meet that also included West Virginia and Kent State. The Bruins and Wolverines will face No. 5 California and Ohio State on Saturday, with the top two teams moving on to NCAA championships in Fort Worth, Texas, from April 16-17.
The back-to-back regional meets will test UCLA’s emotional and physical strength, especially as the team lacks the depth of recent years. Waller expects to keep the same lineups for Saturday’s regional final.
Flatley's injury suffered during warmups before the opener stretched the roster thin during the regular season. Getting her back on beam came at a perfect time entering the busy weekend.
The Bruins needed her "swagger" on the beam, Waller said. The event has been UCLA's most inconsistent event this year, but the treacherous four-inch-wide stage is where Flatley shines brightest.
Even after UCLA’s second competitor on beam, Samantha Sakti, fell Friday, Flatley worked through her set effortlessly.
The junior had just one day of practice on beam this week before traveling to Morgantown. But with thousands of practice hours behind her, the former U.S. junior national team member still felt “100% confident.”
“I’ve worked too dang hard not to be this good [on beam],” said Flatley, who trained as a junior elite gymnast at Chow’s Gymnastics under the same coaches who guided Olympic champions Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas.
It was Flatley’s third competitive routine of the year, as she made her season debut at the Pac-12 championships, performing only on bars. She competed on bars again Friday, scoring another 9.875 that helped UCLA avoid having to count a fall on the event. Junior Margzetta Frazier’s team-high 9.95 on bars anchored the rotation.
Despite flirting with disaster on each of their first two events, UCLA still lead halfway through the meet. Michigan, the best vault team in the country, then surged ahead by scoring a 49.65 on the event and turned UCLA’s 0.05-point advantage into a 0.45-point Michigan lead. UCLA finished with a 49.4 on vault, its best event score of the night, but the Wolverines still extended their lead in the final rotation.
UCLA will enter Saturday’s regional final with the third-highest qualifying score. Cal won the first semifinal with a 197.725, while Ohio State’s 196.525 upset 12th-ranked Brigham Young (196.35) to earn a spot in the final.
The last time UCLA didn’t compete at the NCAA championships as a team was 2006. A format change in 2019 cut the number of national championship qualifiers from 12 to eight, making it more difficult for the Bruins to extend their streak. Now they must upset a top-five team to keep their season going.
Waller is confident that the Bruins' performance Friday could serve as a solid springboard to do just that.
“They played the cards right,” Waller said. “They left a little bit in the emotional tank for tomorrow. … Hopefully it’s going to pay dividends.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.