With its most talented women's gymnastics team in school history, UCLA had expectations of an undefeated season. As the defending NCAA champions and owner of this season's bull's-eye, the Bruins set that goal for themselves.
With four Olympians coming in as freshmen, they could afford to have such a bold outlook. But while the Bruins have taken their performances to a higher level this season, they have found out that opponents are meeting the challenge.
Arizona State ruined the top-ranked Bruins' plan with an upset in a Jan. 26 dual meet. And on Saturday in Seattle, Stanford added another blemish with its brilliant performance in outscoring UCLA, 197.850 to 197.800, to take the Pacific 10 Conference title.
It was the Cardinal's best score of the season and the highest in the meet's history. UCLA Coach Valorie Kondos Field said that result may have come at the right time as her team heads into Saturday's NCAA West Regional at Pauley Pavilion.
"Stanford had the best meet I've ever seen them have," Kondos Field said. "Our season was, I think, a little too easy, and I've said to my team that it will be tough for us if we don't have something to fight for.
"I told the team if we're going to bring it home at NCAAs, it's going to have to happen at Pac-10s."
Despite the loss, UCLA is beginning to peak. The Bruins' all-around score is the highest since Jan. 26. Jamie Dantzscher, one of the touted Olympians, had her fifth perfect 10 score in the meet. Senior Mohini Bhardwaj repeated as Pac-10 vault and all-around champion and was chosen the Pac-10 gymnast of the year.
With a nation-leading regional qualifying score of 197.640, the Bruins are the favorites to win the regional meet and claim one of two spots for the NCAA championships April 19-21 at Athens, Ga.
Last year, the Bruins did the near impossible and hit 48 of a possible 48 routines without a fall and won their second NCAA title in four years with a 197.300 score.
So far, the Bruins have surpassed that score in seven of 13 meets. Bhardwaj has the nation's best all-around score (39.975), Dantzscher is ranked first on the bars and floor exercise and Onnie Willis has 22 top-three finishes and 11 victories.
While Dantzscher has made the smoothest transition from the Sydney Games to college competition, Kondos Field believes Kristen Maloney and Canadian Yvonne Tousek are capable of big performances Saturday. Alyssa Beckerman had season-ending wrist surgery March 5.
Kondos Field marvels at her gymnasts' ability to compete for the U.S. in September, begin their freshman year and jump into a busy college season without much of a break in between.
"When you compete on the world level, you may have maybe five meets a year to focus on," she said. "It's not that way in college. We've had 13 events.
"To . . . come back from Sydney and jump right into what isn't a normal season . . . is a real test of mental and emotional strength."
One of the great rivalries in men's college tennis will take place Friday when top-ranked UCLA plays host to No. 6 Stanford in a Pac-10 match.
The Bruins (17-0) dealt the defending NCAA champion its only loss Feb. 18 at the Intercollegiate Tennis Assn. National Indoor Championships. In 85 meetings, UCLA has a 44-41 edge. Stanford won two of three meetings last season.
"They're just great programs," UCLA Coach Billy Martin said. "It goes back to [former UCLA coach] Glenn Bassett and Dick Gould, who's still [at Stanford]."
With two weeks remaining in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball season, the eight teams for the postseason tournament are probably set. Brigham Young, UCLA, Pepperdine and UC Irvine should qualify from the Mountain Division and Hawaii, Stanford, Long Beach State and USC from the Pacific.
UCLA men's assistant soccer coach Steve Rammel resigned to become head coach at St. Mary's. The Bruins also lost women's volleyball assistant coach Burt Fuller, who took the top job at Utah State.
Biola edged Azusa Pacific, 4-3, Tuesday in a battle for first place in the Golden State Athletic Conference baseball standings. Biola, led by pitcher Chad Elkin and outfielder Ryan Beaver, is ranked seventh nationally and is 26-5 overall and 15-3 in conference. No. 13 Azusa, led by first baseman Mike Soto, is 24-4 and 14-4.
Mara Caples of Cal State Dominguez Hills recorded provisional qualifying marks for the Division II track and field championships, running the 5,000 in 17:53.34 and the 10,000 in 37:08.17 at the UC San Diego Invitational.
Other local athletes were chosen conference players of the year. A rundown: SCIAC--Felicia Davis, senior, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, women's basketball; Justin Muth, senior, Cal Lutheran, men's basketball; Suzy Nicoletti, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, women's swimming; Jason Reed, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, women's swimming. GSAC--Jacqueline Godoy, junior, Azusa Pacific, women's basketball.