Last year the UCLA women's gymnastics team missed winning the national collegiate championship by half a point, finishing second to the University of Utah.
This year the team, ranked eighth in the NCAA coaches' poll, expected to have another chance at that crown.
But injuries have sidelined the Bruin's top three gymnasts and the team is struggling in Western Collegiate Athletic Assn. (WCAA) competition.
Sophomore Karen McMullin, who holds the UCLA record on the balance beam (a score of 9.85), has been out of action since the Jan. 19 Arizona State meet when she dislocated her right elbow executing a simple flip at the end of her floor exercise. Ironically, she scored enough points (36.60) to take first place as best all-round gymnast.
It will be at least five weeks before she competes.
Another Star Falls
Eight days after McMullin was injured, sophomore Leslie Goldberg, a standout on the balance beam, tore ligaments in her right ankle when she dismounted.
She may be out for the the season.
And an old ankle injury had forced sophomore Trina Tinti to redshirt this season. She holds the UCLA record on the uneven parallel bars (9.75) and tied the UCLA record for all-around individual performance (38.75) at last year's UCLA Invitational.
And there was the no-show of 1984 Olympic silver medalist Tracee Talavera, who had promised to join the Bruins but opted to tour with other U. S. gymnasts. Even though her earnings from that tour went into a trust fund, she is barred from collegiate competition under NCAA rules.
That leaves the squad with one senior, one sophomore and four freshmen.
Hurt but Determined
But Coach Jerry Tomlinson doesn't consider his team out of the running: "Sure, in terms of team depth and emotionally the injuries hurt us, but the team is working incredibly hard. It's as if each girl said to herself, 'Now I'm really going to work hard or our chances are gone.' The workouts are intense as the Bruin gymnasts prepare for the UCLA Invitational at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Pauley Pavilion against USC, Cal State Fullerton, Brigham Young and Oregon State. Last year the Bruins won, setting a school record for total points scored at a single meet (187.35).
UCLA (1-2 in league dual meets) has dropped its last two to Utah, ranked No. 1 in the nation, and to Arizona State, ranked No. 2. In WCAA competition the top three teams will go to the NCAA regionals on March 30 at Oregon State. The winner and five other regional winners go to the NCAA national championship April 12-13 at Utah.
Tomlinson sees no problem in reaching the regionals but will not predict whether UCLA would be in the nationals. "I've got to see how they'll perform without McMullin and Goldberg."
Need 175 Points
The hobbled Bruins have a goal of 175 team points at Saturday's meet to stay in the running for the regionals, the coach said. They have been averaging 179 points, scoring a season-high (180.15) at Utah in mid-January, but that was before the injuries hit.
Usually a coach can rig player rotation, juggling weaker and stronger gymnasts to attain higher scores in different events, but with only six competitors Tomlinson is in a bind. "It's a scary situation," Tomlinson said. "I don't know if I even have a strategy for the invitational."
His prediction? "We'll give a good run for first place, but in all probability we'll finish second to Fullerton."
But Fullerton's nine-woman squad (4-1 in conference dual meets), ranked fourth in the nation, is having problems, too.
Junior Tami Elliott, who earned four All-American awards last year and is the only collegiate member on the U. S. National Team, sprained her left ankle during exercise three weeks ago. She has not competed in Fullerton's last two meets, but a college spokesman said she will probably be ready for the UCLA Invitational. Her best all-around score this year is 38.05, and in her specialty, the uneven bars, she has scored 9.70.
Another Star Doubtful
And Fullerton junior Roni Barrios, who scored a 38.20 in all-around at the NCAA regionals last year, is ailing and probably will not compete Saturday, a spokesman said.
The injuries may not slow Fullerton though.
"I've seen girls at competitions in obvious pain," Tomlinson said. "But when it was time for their event, they drop their ice packs and perform."
Uninjured and healthy is junior Taunia Rogers who holds the Fullerton record score in the all-around (38.25).
Though UCLA has no superstars, to counter Fullerton the Bruins have senior co-captain Janet Ferrari, 5-2, 120 pounds. "She's probably the hardest working, most aggressive athlete I've coached in 12 years," Tomlinson said, adding that Ferrari has shown consistent improvement in agility and artistry, the skills needed to master the different events.
Ferrari, whose best all-around score (37.20) was against Fullerton last year, had her best showing this year at Utah in January, scoring 36.50 all-around and posting season-high marks on the uneven bars (9.20) and the balance beam (9.05).
Difference of Opinion