Bears Look to Vault Program to New Heights in 2005
Jan. 6, 2005
Note: This is the season preview for the California women's gymnastics team. The Bears open the 2005 season at home, Friday, Jan. 14 with a quad meet involving No. 3 Stanford, UC Davis and Brown. Meet time at Haas Pavilion is slated for 7:30 p.m.
If Cari DuBois' first two seasons as head coach of the California women's gymnastics team are any indication of where the program is headed, then the 2005 squad could be the most successful in Cal's history.
The Bears have finished each of the last two seasons nationally ranked and begin this season No. 25 in the nation (GymInfo Preseason Coaches Poll). The 2004 squad finished fifth at the NCAA West Regional meet, while the 2003 team took fourth and the program has posted back-to-back winning records for first time since 1991-92.
Clearly, the precedent has been set. Now, a squad bookended with superb senior and freshman classes is poised to keep the trend going.
'Last year, we raised the bar big time. We had success and we're ready to take it to the next level,' DuBois said. 'I expect us to keep climbing the ranks.'
Unlike past seasons, DuBois feels this year's Bears are 'ahead of the curve.' When DuBois was initially hired, she admittedly didn't have much time to recruit and prepare for her first season as she would have liked. Still, her first Cal squad finished the 2003 campaign 12-5, ranked 18th in the nation, and set the top three all-around scores in the program's history.
Even in 2004, with a year under her belt and more time to recruit, DuBois didn't feel as comfortable and confident about the upcoming season as she does now.
'This year, we're more physically fit,' DuBois said. 'We have a great group of freshmen. Our mindset is more positive. I don't feel like we're playing catch-up at all this season. I felt before we had to chase success and this year we're ahead of schedule.'
Headlining this year's squad will once again be all-arounder My-Lan Dodd. The senior from Seattle was the 2004 Pac-10 balance beam co-champion, the first conference beam champion in the program's history. As a sophomore, Dodd became the first Cal gymnast in nearly a decade to qualify for the NCAA championships. She currently holds a share of Cal's all-time top marks on balance beam (9.950), vault (9.950) and floor exercise (9.950). Only a perfect 10.000 by Cindy Tom (1992) on bars keeps Dodd from the top position in that event.
Despite having one of the most impressive careers in Cal history, DuBois thinks Dodd has more to prove in her final season.
'I feel that she still has a lot of untapped potential,' DuBois said. 'I'd like to see her win a regional or national title and I think she's capable of doing that. She's one of the most calm and collected competitors I've ever met. Nothing fazes her.'
Another strong all-around competitor for the Bears is expected to be Britani Pittullo, who initially walked-on to the team two years ago and has since earned a scholarship. The junior rebounded from a third-degree ankle sprain in the Bears' first meet of 2004 to post Cal's second-highest all-around mark at the NCAA Regional meet (39.000). In the off-season, Pittulo underwent ankle and shoulder surgery and DuBois hopes to have her in top form midway through the 2005 campaign.
'Britani has learned a lot of new skills and you want to see your upperclassmen keep improving,' DuBois said. 'She has guts and she's aggressive.'
Lauren Shipp (vault, beam, bars) earned a number of high marks for the Bears in 2004. The senior placed third at the NCAA Regionals on the balance beam (9.900). Her top career score came on Jan. 30, when she earned a 9.950 to help the Bears defeat Oregon State. DuBois awarded her a full out-of-state scholarship for her senior season.
'Lauren is going to have her best year as a collegian,' DuBois said. 'She's one of our most improved gymnasts and she's still learning new skills, which is nice to see out of a senior. Everyone knew she had the potential and now she's proving it.'
Senior Miho Maeda, another former walk-on who has earned a scholarship, is expected to again see competition time in the all-around. DuBois considers her one of the strongest contributors to the Bears' success.
While sophomore Elyse Wong didn't compete extensively last season, DuBois credits some of the all-arounder's consistency with boosting the Bears into Regionals.
'This year, we hope to have Elyse in the lineup more often,' DuBois said. 'She's a very hard worker, very consistent and very steady.'
Sophomore all-arounder Justine Cephus is returning from a knee injury and her competition time will depend on how well she rehabilitates. 'She's incredible on the beam and vault,' praised DuBois.
Sophomore Isabel Garcia will compete on the vault, balance beam and floor exercise.
'She improved a lot as a freshman and we found some new skills to make her stand out,' DuBois said.
DuBois' recruiting class is highlighted by freshman Nicki Wells, an all-arounder who competed for New Zealand at the 1999 and 2003 World Championships and 2002 Commonwealth Games. As well as being a physically strong athlete, DuBois considers Wells the hardest worker she's ever coached.
'When you give her an assignment, she goes above and beyond what you asked for,' DuBois said of the Auckland native. 'She has so much experience. She'll give us great leadership as a freshman.'
Other first-year all-arounders looking to contribute this season are Keiko Nakamura, Siobhan Luce and Alli Szutu. Depending on how she bounces back from a broken right foot, Alexandra Dillon could see competition time on the vault, beam and floor.
'None of our freshman are tapped out. They'll all continue to learn new skills which is the name of success,' DuBois said.
Returning on the bench with DuBois as assistants are Steve Arkell and his wife, Sue. Steve is in his second season with Cal, assisting DuBois with recruiting, spotting and event preparation and conditioning. Sue Arkell, who was a volunteer assistant last season, oversees cardio exercises and choreography on both the floor and beam.
'They are two of the best technicians I've ever worked with,' DuBois said. 'We're all passionate about what we do.'
As the expectations and profile of the Cal program rise, so does the level of their opposition. The Bears have four home meets at Haas Pavilion this season, opening with a quad-meet with Stanford, Brown and UC Davis on Jan. 14 and dual meets with Arizona (Feb. 4), Washington (Feb. 18) and North Carolina State (March 11). However, DuBois points to the March 4 quad-meet with national team powers Utah, Stanford and Florida in Salt Lake City as the Bears most demanding regular-season event.
'It will be our toughest competition,' DuBois said. 'All three of those teams were in the Super Six last year. It'll be a great experience for this team because of the high level of competition, the sold-out arena and because it's loud and intense. It will be exciting to see how they respond.'
Haas Pavilion plays host to the Pac-10 Championships this year on March 26. DuBois considers this competition a more formidable challenge for her Bears than the NCAA Regionals because of the high level of talent on the West Coast.
'I want this team to rise to the occasion,' DuBois said. 'I'd like to see this team go to nationals. That's not just a possibility but a reality.'