UCLA update — NCAA weeks 3 and 4 — Must-click links

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, January 29, 2022

Happy Gymnastics Saturday! Things are heating up as we head into week four of NCAA. To start, last Saturday, Oklahoma did what we know they’re capable of against Stanford, Utah State, and Arizona, scoring a huge 197.900 on the road. It’s not the top score of the season, but it is the top road score, so kudos to them for getting so close to 198 this early on.

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On the west coast, Oregon State killed it to best UCLA on Sunday, with OSU hitting 197 thanks in part to Jade Carey’s continued dominance. Carey scored a 39.800 in her second-ever NCAA meet, with this floor routine:

UCLA unfortunately is dealing with injuries as Chae Campbell tweaked her foot and Margzetta Frazier broke hers, but they finished with a respectable 196.300.

But what everyone talked about last week was Monday’s Michigan-Minnesota matchup, where Michigan hit 198 with a 198.025. They just keep getting better each week, and I love seeing this program continue to one-up the other big contenders throughout the season. Minnesota had an incredible meet, though, scoring 197.650 thanks in part to two 10s. Ona Loper scored a 10 on vault:

And Mya Hooten scored a 10 on floor:

Also in week three, LIU took its very first win with a 194.2! I’m so happy for them.

Moving on to week four, on Friday, LSU competed at Georgia, where Rachael Lukacs unfortunately got injured and had to be carried off. Both teams did fine, with LSU besting Georgia 196.850 to 196.100.

Arkansas visited Florida, which competed without Ellie Lazzari and Halley Taylor due to injuries. Florida still killed it though, scoring a massive 198.250 — the highest score yet this season — with two perfect 10s. Leanne Wong scored her first perfect 10, on bars:

And Trinity Thomas scored her 11th perfect 10, on beam:

Arkansas wasn’t as strong, finishing the meet with a 196.475. Auburn bested Alabama on Friday with a 197.525 over Bama’s 197.125, with Sunisa Lee earning a 39.7.

Next up, Stanford competes at Utah on Saturday, along with Oregon State at Cal. On Sunday, Michigan State competes at Michigan, Arizona at UCLA, and Denver at Oklahoma. Minnesota’s Sunday meet against Maryland has been postponed due to COVID. Full schedule at College Gym News.

UCLA Update

The UCLA racism scandal really blew up this week — which is a good thing — in large part due to Margzetta Frazier and Sekai Wright‘s decision to speak out.

On Wednesday, both gymnasts appeared on a podcast (episode transcribed here), where Frazier alleged that UCLA uses women of color as a marketing tool without actually protecting them when it counts. She says the administration hasn’t done enough to address her allegations against Alexis Jeffrey, who allegedly used racist slurs during her time on the team, and called for UCLA head coach Chris Waller’s firing. Check out this Daily Bruin article for an overview of Frazier’s statements.

An anonymous gymnast also spoke to the Los Angeles Times, describing a “negative atmosphere” in the program. We also learned that UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond met with gymnasts including Frazier on Tuesday. 

But UCLA’s public response has been disappointing, to say the least. On Tuesday — before Frazier’s podcast appearance — UCLA released a statement so empty it reeks of USAG. It’s clear from what we’ve seen that gymnasts have lost faith in the administration and that the environment has not been positive, and it’s disconcerting to see UCLA make Frazier take on the weight of having to create change.

Meanwhile, LSU head coach Jay Clark also addressed the controversy in a Tuesday press conference — his comments are transcribed below. His approach is refreshing, especially compared to UCLA’s method — for one, he claims his team has been involved in the decision-making regarding Jeffrey’s enrollment. But he admits himself that he has had no contact with UCLA, and therefore only knows one side of the story.

There’s a lot going on, so I highly recommend this excellent thread for a full history of the allegations and the aftermath. And definitely check out my friend Lela Moore’s article contextualizing this incident within the history of racism in NCAA gymnastics (FanSided).

Gymnastics news

  • Teramoto Asuka retired (The Gymternet). Teramoto competed for Japan at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and has been an anchor for the program throughout her long elite career. We wish her all the best in her future upright adventures.
  • USA Gymnastics held its first national team camp of 2022, with Skye Blakely, Konnor McClain, and eMjae Frazier among those in attendance.
  • Russia named its 2022 national team (Gymnovosti).
  • Cottbus World Cup nominative entries are out (h/t The All-Around).
  • Sadly, Ellie Downie won’t show up to Cottbus because she hurt her foot (h/t Actus Gymnastique).
  • College Gymnastics Is Blowing Up (Slate)
  • Jordan Chiles Reflects on Her Moment at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (Sports Illustrated)
  • Read this thing about beetles I guess? (NPR)
  • Speaking of Simone, she’s back on the tramp.

Tweet of the week

Good to know the Carlton is alive and well.

Five at The IX: Jay Clark

LSU head coach Jay Clark sat down for a press conference ahead of Friday’s meet against Georgia. I’ve whittled it down to just his comments on the controversy with Alexis Jeffrey. Edited for clarity and length.

Can you speak about the current controversy?
When you read social media and when you read the internet, you have to be judicious in how much credibility you give to all of those things. Initially, somebody entered the transfer portal and we had contact with her and then these things began to surface and we began to ferret out the facts as we could get to them, through a lot of the girls. They know each other on these teams. It became apparent that the stories were consistent from the gymnasts that were there and the gymnast who was coming here and not at all what some people on the internet would like to portray it as.

I was concerned at that point, obviously. We went to the team, initially, before we even knew this, and said, how do you feel about somebody joining in the middle of the year? We’ve never had a transfer, so you don’t want to upset the apple cart. But at the same time, we’ve got injuries to a lot of key people, and COVID. It was an opportunity for somebody to come on no money.

Then, when these issues began to surface, I involved Ashleigh Clare-Kearney Thigpen, who’s our athletic director for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I said, can you help me navigate this and see if I even need to move forward with this, because it’s not worth it to me if there’s any truth to this. We have a very strong culture within our team, we’re known for that. It’s something that particularly within the last two years we’ve worked very hard on. We’ve had a lot of difficult conversations. Things that I know that in some ways I’m ill-equipped to lead, and I’ve enlisted Clare-Kearney to help me with that.

She interviewed the kid and the father, and then we involved [LSU’s Deputy Director of Athletics for Leadership and Strategy] Dr. Lori Williams, just to see where everybody was on it, and I told them, I’m not married to this. I don’t want to interpret this one way and be on the wrong side of this. They both came back and said no, we think you’re right to move forward, and we think this is an opportunity, exactly what we’re trying to effect change here. For learning, for change, for educational opportunities for someone who may have made a mistake. But in the interviews they conducted with the dad and the kid, and information that came from other gymnasts there, everybody concurred, including our team — we met as a group, and I met with everyone individually — and everyone unanimously felt like we should move forward.

Is she on the team competing Friday?
Not traveling. She’s gotta come here and get established and earn her spot like everyone else. So she will not be with us this week. She is on the team, she’s enrolled here at LSU and just trying to get acclimated to our team. So far it’s been fairly seamless in terms of the internal. But I would just say the things that we hear on the internet are widely contrary to any information that we have.

What level of truth is there to the allegations?
I think that those are questions best answered by somebody who was at the institution. I’ve reached out and was unable to get anybody to call me back during that whole process. I think the information we have is from gymnasts who reached out to our gymnasts that told them what had occurred as they knew it, which lined up almost identically to what the young lady said. As far as commenting on what the allegations are, I’m not sure that’s what I need to answer because I think it’s secondary to the process that we went through as an institution to ferret out the facts as we could and to make a decision that we felt was correct on all levels. I think UCLA is better equipped to answer whatever it is that they allege, because what’s being said on the internet has not come from that team. It’s come from people who think they know things but aren’t citing any sources and I will just tell you that it is wildly contrary to the information we’ve been able to get.

What is her name and what is her contribution to the team?
Her name’s Alexis Jeffrey. We had recruited her a little bit when DD was here. She’s from the same gym that Aleah Finnegan is from. She made an early decision, UCLA was her dream school, she went there and made a very early commitment. In terms of where she is now as a gymnast, I’m not completely sure. Before I knew any of these issues existed, I thought, this kid is walking away from a full ride and coming here on no money, I thought she would be able to contribute in some way.

But as we went through the process it became more and more about as we uncovered what we could uncover from Ashleigh Clare-Kearney Thigpen’s and mine as well, it became about an opportunity to do the work we say we’re trying to do. I was asked last night, is it worth it? I don’t know, it depends on how you define that. Is it gymnastics? Is that going to be the definition, or is this a situation where we actually can effect change and people can learn to be different. And it’s something we’ve talked about as a team. We’ve got a diverse team, and to a person, they wanted to take this individual in with the facts that we were able to uncover. Whether it’s worth it or not, time will tell I guess, and everybody can be the judge of that. I think people will disagree with the decision we made, but I will tell you that the process we went through was unique, it was new, it was exhaustive, it was intentional, it was thoughtful … our team was very involved, our entire staff, and at the end of the day this was the decision that we arrived at.

The question marks exist at another institution in terms of what if any allegations are there and what the handling of that was.

What’s the team spirit like in the locker room right now?
I know that you guys don’t believe me when I say this, but our team is healthy, our team loves each other. If you’re not there on a daily basis, you don’t know the conversations we have. We have really taken on the idea of having the conversations that need to be had and talking to each other rather than about each other. There is not an issue within our team surrounding this or anything else right now. Does that mean we’re perfect? No. Does that mean things don’t come up when you have a team together? No. 

But as far as race, as far as marginalized groups, we have a philosophy where we’re going to hold people accountable for what they say, what they do. We’re going to always take into consideration the people who were harmed by anything like that, and have an appreciation for that perspective, if there was an incident that occurred. And under no circumstances would we tolerate anything within our group that is racially motivated or discriminatory in any way. I would cut it off at the knees if it rears its head. But in this particular case we didn’t have the evidence, regardless of the fury that’s out there. I don’t know where it’s coming from, honestly.

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