Ask The Bruins Chat Wrap: Valorie Kondos Field

Jan. 13, 2005

Q: Lisa (Los Angeles)
You always have the most interesting floor routines year after year. How would you describe this year's routines for those who haven't seen them yet? Do you worry about how the judges or fans will receive your routines each year?

A: When I choreograph for our athletes, my primary goal is to encourage them to challenge themselves to learn different types of movement. My goal is to get them to look like dancers who tumble - not gymnasts who dance. One of the gifts I have to give our team is to challenge them movement-wise. For this reason, and because I need to continue challenging myself each year, I'm constantly looking to do different things. I have to admit that I went into this season deciding to push our athletes choreographically in areas I haven't asked them to go before, and trust that eventually - their routines would evolve into something interesting to watch.

I'm well aware that I risk having people criticize my choices and make judgement on what's good or bad, but that's the risk I choose to take for the sake of personal growth and for the growth of our athletes.

For example: I wanted to give Kate something contrary to anything she's ever done. We all know that she can do cute, fun, beautiful, spunky - but can she do avant garde, Twyla Tharp, un-orthodox movement? Can she create interesting movement without hitting a series of poses - like her routine last season? The answer is 'yes' she can - however, I am consistently on her in training to not resort back to getting stiff and looking like a gymnast who dances. Personally, I absolutely love her routine this year. When I watch her I can totally FEEL the movement. I am so proud of her for pushing past her comfort level and not being concerned with 'will people like it.'

Choreographically, as in any art form - With respect to Good or Bad, Boring or Interesting - Everything is open for healthy debate, discussion, and if need be... judgement. I ... plan to keep my focus on Diversity.

Q: Val Rust, UCLA Faculty
What time does the team practice? Would like to drop by.

A: We train from 8:00am to 11:00am most weekdays. Feel free to stop on by.

Q: Bruin Fan (Westwood, CA)
How do you take a group of stars and elite athletes in their sport and get everyone to push aside ego and personal accomplishment for one common team goal: a National Championship?

A: We don't separate our team by classes or by scholarship and non-scholarship student-athletes. The same things are expected of everyone. This is something I talk a lot about in recruiting. To be honest, I've never had to talk with one of our student-athletes about acting like a 'diva', which is rather remarkable considering all of the 'star' athletes we've had on our teams.

Q: Mark Kowal (Eagle Rock, CA)
Dear Coach Field, will the Bruins bounce back from a road meet loss at Utah to beat the Oregon State Beavers this Friday?

A: Our meet in Utah was great for us in quite a few areas. Our freshmen competed like champions. Some of our upper classmen had mistakes they don't usually make, but served to highlight the areas we need to work on. And our 'loss' only served to fuel our competitive fire. With regard to OSU, we will be putting up quite a different line-up because I need to get more athletes on our roster competing. Our goal is to always hit 24 for 24 routines, and hope that that allows us to 'win' the meet. Will I see you on Monday at our home opener, Mark?

Q: Denny (Santa Monica)
Congratulations on your recent trip to Utah, where you took on the nine-time NCAA champion Utes. It is quite an achievement to lose three All-Americans yet score a 197.3 in an arena packed with 10,000 screaming Utah fans. I understand you have choreographed a new floor routine for your 2005 squad. Considering that the Bruins won both the vault (49.500 to 49.450) and the beam (49.375 to 49.275) and tied on the bars (49.350) during this meet, is there reason to be concerned with this team on the floor? I am not a gymnastics expert but a UCLA sports fan. Can you articulate this floor routine for a novice?

A: All of our student-athletes get new floor routines every year. I am one of those choreographers who continue to tweak our floor routines all season long. In answer to your question ... No Denny, I don't think you need to be concerned about this year's floor team. We really don't have a weak event this season.

Q: Shelly (Milwaukee, WI)
I am a huge UCLA gymnastics fan! I was wondering if you knew what Jamie Dantzscher has been up to since graduating last May? I am a huge fan of hers as well. Thanks a lot, and I wish the team the best of luck this year!

A: Dantzscher is doing GREAT. She has not graduated from school yet. She's doing really well in school and will graduate in June. She's got a few things going with photo shoots for some magazines, and she's in my office all the time. I agree with you, she is great.

Q: John (New York)
How is recruiting done in gymnastics? Do you go to club meets, or do you have the recruits come and do routines, video, etc.? Thanks.

A: We go to a few of the bigger national meets. Usually, I hear from the recruits via e-mail and any video footage they send.

Q: Camille (Arcadia, CA)
Hi! I was wondering if Holly Murdock is going to compete this season? Thanks. Go Bruins!

A: Holly Murdock has injury-retired. Her body was breaking down with all of the pounding, and she really wasn't very happy in the gym any more. Because she has legitimate physical issues with the sport, she qualifies for an injury- retirement scholarship. She has two more years left in school here, and she will be helping us out at our home meets. We all miss having her in the gym every day. Our entire gym erupts into a welcoming cheer when she comes into the gym.

Q: UCLA fan
I heard Courtney Kupets backed out of oral commitment to come to UCLA. Is that true and if so, how do you and the team feel about it?

A: Courtney did not back out of a verbal commitment to UCLA. In recruiting, it's always in everyone's best interest for the recruit to end up where they really want to go. The team and I have absolutely no ill feelings toward her.

Q: Ryan Lange (Red Deer, Alberta, Canada)
Coach Val, with the team this season being labeled as 're-building', what do you think you as the coach must do in order to bring out the potential in all the gymnasts and turn the team into a strong national championship contender again in the near future?

A: I feel it's imperative we keep our focus on ourselves and on our goals. We can't measure our success by what other teams do, by whom we beat, or whom we lose to. We need to regroup after every meet, discuss where we need to step it up, make appropriate corrections and changes, and hopefully, by April 21st we'll be able to compete with the same confident, aggressive, and clean gymnastics we've had in the past.

Q: Chicago
Does or will UCLA ever recruit/use rhythmic gymnastics athletes?

A: The NCAA does not offer rhythmic gymnastics as one of its sports, so no we do not recruit rhythmic gymnasts.

Q: John (Riverton)
Valorie, thanks for reading this. I have to wonder about the size of the team this year. I noticed it started with 17 people on the roster, has 14 listed on it now, and you only traveled to Utah with 10. So us fans can try to stop speculating, could you explain where each girl has gone and without naming names let us know if you already have people to replace them?

A: Hi John, where is Riverton? I appreciate you coming to the source. O.K. let's see... first of all we started with 16. Secondly, I don't travel our entire team. And no... I don't already have people to replace the athletes that are no longer on our team. (That seems like an odd question, maybe I'm not understanding it well.) As to our dwindling numbers:

Trishna Patel wanted to come back for a fifth year because she was so very close to getting a Yurchenko full vault. She decided a few weeks ago that she just didn't see that happening between now and April, so she has decided to retire from gymnastics and spend her time concentrating on school and getting an internship in the entertainment industry.

Christy Erickson is pretty much the same story. She also had a fifth year to compete and in November asked if she could stop training and become an undergraduate assistant coach. I was thrilled because she is so valuable to our team in this capacity.

Emily Hanson and Kisha Auld are still training and working to get ready to step in on some events.

Jen Sutton's school schedule is extremely difficult and will get more and more difficult for her the next year and a half. She's a brilliant student. She also injured her neck in the fall. When she healed from that and was released to start training again, she and I sat down and talked about where she could feel the most useful for the team. Jen is now helping out in the gym - doing a great job!

Holly's situation I addressed in an earlier question.

It is an odd year in this sense isn't it? Mainly because we had three fifth years come back - Trishna, Erickson, and Maloney. That's a first for us.

Q: adam ahquin san diego
This is not a question, sorry! But I couldn't help to comment on what an exciting meet it was the other night. Miss Val, the team looks Awesome! I watched it on the internet and found myself clapping for their floor routines, a lot of fun! Best of luck up at Oregon. Till next time. Late

A: Adam Ahquin... are you the awesome dancer I've heard so much about??? If so, how cool! Thanks for the note.

Q: Orange County
An article in the paper referenced meetings between the NCAA and the U.S. Olympic Committee regarding the possibility that several Olympic sports may be at risk as far as NCAA Championship sports, including Women's Gymnastics, Water Polo, Volleyball and others. What is your assessment as to these possibilities, and what might be done in these regards?

A: I saw that in the paper. I don't think there is any more reason for concern than there has been for the past several years. It's simply talking about the participation numbers. I keep seeing the NCAA doing everything it can to help out those sports.

Q: Scott Smith Newport Beach, CA
I saw you speak at the Board of Governors meeting and was very impressed. I want you to remain at UCLA for a long time and hope you have no plans to go elsewhere. Can you confirm that?

A: Yes, I can. Thank you for your kind words.

Q: Betsy (Boston)
Hi Miss Val, You always seem to have such a great approach to the team and the season as 'wholes.' Any particular strategies for this year? Best of luck, Betsy

A: Hi Betsy. Our goal each year is to help our team members learn life lessons through the sport of gymnastics. That includes having integrity in everything you do in life, and through that integrity being able to compete with unwavering confidence. With regard to looking at our season as a whole, I've been chastised in the past for not putting up our strongest line-ups in every meet. I believe that if you are on our team, and you have properly prepared to compete, then you have earned the right to compete. Every line-up I put up should be able to 'win' the meet if they hit their routines. From a 'team' perspective, I can't tell you how many times we've had to rely on our depth to come in and compete at nationals. I believe that they were able to compete as champions because they had been given competitive experience during the course of the season.

Q: Brother
Is Coach K ever going to lead some cheers again?

A: Hopefully!

Q: Amy (New York)
How you determine your lineups for each meet? Are you worried about putting freshmen in the first and/or last spots in a lineup?

A: Our line-ups each meet are determined by a few things: The health of our athletes. Who we want to give more competitive experience to. Who we want to rest. Who needs to rest. We try to put up our strongest line-up for our home competitions. We try to compete our athletes at away meets if we know their family or friends might be there. However, first and foremost comes the health of our athletes, and then giving them as much competitive experience as possible.

I'm not 'worried' about putting freshmen up first or last in the line-up, but I do take into consideration the extra pressure it may put on them because obviously I want them to feel success. I was extremely impressed with Lindsey Vanden Eykel our first meet - a freshman, competing last in the line-up on our first event, at her first college meet, and she hit the most beautiful bar routine I've seen her do.

Q: Sabrina Houston,TX
Miss Val, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy watching UCLA on floor, the choreography is fantastic!! What are the titles of Tasha's and Kristen's FX Music?! Go Bruins!!!

A: Thank you for the compliment. All of our floor music is done by Eric Larson of Wolfjump Music. He can be reached at I don't know the titles of the individual songs because he sends me a ton of demos, and I just pick the ones I like.

Q: Rachel, Davis
UCLA has the *best* choreography in the NCAA!!! With the COP and all of the current jump requirements in elite gymnastics, are you interested in choreographing elite routines? How challenging would it be to keep your artistic integrity and choreograph an elite floor routine with a 10 start value (plus or minus, depending on the tumbling)?

A: I would love to choreograph more elite routines. I was excited that the Canadian Federation allowed Kate Richardson to keep her college floor routine for the Olympics this last summer. Kate said that every time she performed it at Canada's Olympic Trials and at the Olympic Games, she had people coming up to her and telling her how much they enjoyed it.

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