Kyla Ross has set a lot of goals in her gymnastics career. The Olympic, World, and NCAA champion seems to accomplish anything she sets her mind to, and her gymnastics resume is matched by very few. The London 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist has competed at the very highest level at her sport, representing her country on the US National Team for seven years.

And now a junior at UCLA, Ross has found a new joy and appreciation for the sport of gymnastics and is competing with a new goal that she feels helps her compete at her best, to “compete with joy and love for [her] teammates.”

NCAA gymnastics is a whole different world from competing for the United States, and after Ross accomplished her lifelong goal of competing in the Olympics, which she described as “a great honor and amazing experience,” she is now focused on being a student-athlete at one of the top universities in the country and helping to lead her team to what she hopes can be an undefeated season, culminating in a repeat of the national title Ross helped the Bruins win last year.

Kyla Ross celebrates after competing in women’s gymnastics qualifications for the US at the London 2012 Olympic Games in London, England/The Phoenix

When Kyla arrived at UCLA as a freshman, she described herself as “a silent leader,” leading by example and working hard to compete the best routines she could for her teammates. College is a major adjustment, however, and after the fourth place finish by UCLA at nationals in her freshman year, Ross knew there were ways she could improve to help her team even more, in particular stating that she was “very upset because she was not able to be in the floor lineup.” With former Olympic teammate Jordyn Wieber, who Ross describes as “a mentor to look up to,” by her side as her floor coach, Ross worked hard in the offseason to get her body back into the shape she knew it needed to be in to get in the floor lineup as much as possible.

It worked, as Kyla was a much more consistent presence in UCLA’s lineup in the 2018 season, but a “really disappointing” fall at nationals after such a great season on floor spurred a desire to work even harder in the offseason to prepare for this season. In the floor lineup consistently this year and stronger than ever, Ross no longer has to worry so much about her endurance on floor, and has a new goal on the event- to get a Perfect 10.o, which would compete a “Gym Slam” for Ross, already owning 10s on every other event already in her illustrious career.

The Perfect 10 that Ross is shooting for is also evident in the story behind her routine, a floor routine that has the same music as her first routine ever, “Hit the Road Jack,” and the remix created by UCLA’s videographer accomplished her goal coming into this season of having a more fun routine. The first listen to the music and the choreography initially created a story of Ross as a bank robber, with UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field, known to her athletes as “Miss Val”, choreographing a routine where Ross began the routine breaking into a bank and ended escaping with the money.

Kyla Ross gives teammate Madison Kocian a pep talk before competing on the balance beam for the UCLA Bruins/UCLA Athletics

It was fellow UCLA junior and Rio 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist, Madison Kocian, however, who came up with a special twist before a UCLA team exercise to have Ross be a “10.0 robber,” an idea that Ross happily adapted to. With Miss Val’s constant choreography changes, which Ross says are still happening now, and continuing hard work with Wieber, hopefully Ross can “steal” a 10.0 before this season ends.

Another area where Ross has dramatically improved this season is on vault, where she is finally able to compete a 10.0 start value vault, a goal of hers ever since stepping on campus. Working with vault coach Randy Lane, Kyla worked hard every offseason her freshman and sophomore year and not quite being able to get a 10.0 vault competition ready by the start of season was in her words “very frustrating”.

In her first two seasons, Kyla always knew she had a Yurchenko full to go back to if the upgrade did not work out, but as a junior, she came into preseason “fully committing” to a Yurchenko one-and-a-half, and surprised herself by how quickly she was able to learn the new vault with that mentality. Ross has already scored two Perfect 10.0s this season on vault, and says she has gained confidence throughout the season and that “being able to hit vault for the team is such a great feeling.”

Kyla’s growth this year is not only evident in her gymnastics, but also in how she has transitioned into a leadership role now as an upperclassman. She has become a vocal leader for the team, voicing her opinion with the help of Miss Val and her teammates to help lead the Bruins in the right direction. The team has had an incredible season so far, undefeated up to this point, and they are coming off an exciting matchup with Utah, which Ross says always has added hype as the Red Rocks are the Bruin’s “biggest competition in the Pac-12.”

UCLA took home a win with a huge 198.025 team score, with Ross citing senior Macy Toronjo’s uneven bar routine-her first competed in college- and freshman Norah Flatley’s beam routine as highlights of the meet. Ross also received a Perfect 10.0 on bars to anchor UCLA in the opening rotation for the Bruins, and says that “starting the meet like that builds momentum and gets the team hyped up to finish the meet strong.” There was a bit of deja-vu in the final rotation, as a fall early in the lineup put the team in a high pressure situation just as it did in the final rotation in the Super Six team finals last season. Miss Val after the fall said, “I keep having flashbacks to nationals,” and just as UCLA did in Super Six, they came back from the fall strong and posted one of heir highest beam scores of the season.

Kyla Ross performs on the floor exercise for the UCLA Bruins in Los Angeles, California/UCLA Athletics

The Bruins have what will likely be their biggest test so far coming up on Sunday, as they face off against number one Oklahoma, the team that they just edged out to take home the 2018 National Championship title. In typical Kyla Ross fashion, the 22 year-old is excited for the challenge, saying “at this point in the season we are feeling strong, and have been able to figure out lineups and what we need to do to be at our very best.” To accomplish the team’s goal of staying undefeated, the team will likely need to be at their best, and Ross says they will be able to do just that by staying in the zone the UCLA team calls their “Bruin Bubble,” and focus on themselves to be as successful as possible.

The 19-person UCLA roster is as close as they come, with Ross describing the team as having a “close knit bond,” and says the motivation each week comes from “the joy and love that [they] all have for each other.” Ross says the strong personalities coming from the freshman and this particular team’s strong mindsets allow them to “not doubt [themselves]” and be prepared to compete their bests every single week.

UCLA is coming off an incredible season that ended with the Bruin’s seventh national championship, and the team this year, led by Ross’s incredible all-around performances each week, seems to be on track to fight for the title yet again.

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