2007 UCLA Gymnastics Outlook
Dec. 29, 2006
After a frustrating 2006 season, the 2007 Bruins are out to prove that UCLA Gymnastics is back and ready to contend once again for the NCAA Championship.
The fire-in-the-eyes attitude is palpable amongst this group.
'The frustration that we endured last season has served to refuel our fire and strengthen our resolve,' said head coach Valorie Kondos Field. 'Our returnees' determination, combined with the overall talent and character of our freshmen, has already made this season one of the best in our UCLA history.'
Although small in numbers, UCLA packs plenty of punch with its 11-person roster. The Bruins have an extremely talented squad that is more than capable of scoring big.
Leading the team are seniors Ashley Peckett and Michelle Selesky. Peckett, a former World Championships competitor for Canada, is known as one of the most consistent competitors on the UCLA squad. She enters the 2007 season having hit 59 of her last 60 routines dating back to 2005. Peckett played a major role for the Bruins in their NCAA Championship run in 2004, leading off with solid 9.8+ routines. Selesky is all about hard work and perseverance. A former walk-on who has earned a scholarship the last two years, Selesky has learned new skills in the off-season, including a new vault and new tumbling passes, and is determined to get the chance to perform them in competition this year. Both Peckett and Selesky are also leaders in the classroom. The two seniors have earned Scholastic All-America honors in each of the last three years, and Peckett has also received Pac-10 All-Academic acclaim the last two seasons.
Junior All-American Tasha Schwikert returns 100 percent healthy after last season's shoulder surgery that had her sidelined until the final regular season meet. Schwikert has regained her form that saw her capture the 2005 NCAA all-around title as a freshman. The 2000 U.S. Olympian and the team captain of the 2003 U.S. World Championship team brings the 'wow' factor to every routine she performs. Schwikert is capable of 10.0s on all events and has scored perfect 10s on both uneven bars and floor exercise. Even with limited training last season, she qualified for the NCAA Championships by winning the vault at the Regional meet on just her second vault of the season.
Former two-time U.S. National Team member Jordan Schwikert is also 100 percent after her shoulder surgery last year. Jordan missed UCLA's first two meets of the season and was not able to compete in the all-around until March. Once she returned, however, she provided the Bruins big-time scores, including a pair of meet-winning 9.95s on vault and beam at Georgia and a career-best all-around total of 39.5 at the Pac-10 Championships. She led the Bruins with an average of 9.828 on floor exercise and was second on vault with an average of 9.811. As a freshman in 2005, Jordan earned All-America honors on beam, as well as All-Pac-10 acclaim in the all-around.
New to the team is junior transfer Natalie Padilla, who comes to Westwood via the University of Iowa. Padilla competed at Iowa for two seasons, winning three vault titles and one floor title as a freshman in 2005. She has career-best marks of 9.875 on vault, 9.85 on floor, 9.825 on bars and 38.975 in the all-around. Padilla is a Southern California native who won consecutive floor and bars titles at the Level 10 State Championships in 2003 and 2004.
UCLA's third returning All-American is sophomore Kristina Comforte. As a freshman last year, Comforte did it all, competing a team-high 54 out of a possible 56 routines despite an ankle injury that forced her to undergo surgery in the off-season. Comforte earned first-team All-America honors in the all-around at the NCAA Championships, finishing sixth overall. She also earned a runner-up finish on vault with a near-flawless performance at the event finals. Comforte, a former U.S. junior vault champion and a three-time National Team member, was flawless on vault on February 3 of last year, becoming the first gymnast in 2006 to earn a perfect score on any event.
The most pleasant surprise of the 2006 season was the performance of Ariana Berlin. She started the year as a freshman walk-on who had not competed in gymnastics for nearly five years, and she ended the year as the Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year with a scholarship offer for 2007. Berlin, whose budding gymnastics career was derailed after a serious car accident when she was 14, returned to the sport after spending several years as a professional dancer. With her natural talent, work ethic and determination, she quickly earned a spot in the all-around and went on to compete on all four events in UCLA's last 12 meets of the year. Berlin not only competed often, but she competed well, hitting 50 of 52 routines on the year. Her dance ability and flair on floor exercise make her one to watch wherever the Bruins compete.
Sophomore Janelle Dantzscher brings to the table beautiful lines, grace and technique. Dantzscher combines a classical style on balance beam and floor exercise with big skills that could bring big scores for the Bruins. Dantzscher's 2006 highlight came at Georgia, where she set or tied career-highs in the all-around (39.125) and on all four events.
Li is a two-time USA Championships competitor who finished ninth on beam and 16th in the all-around at the 2005 Championships. Prior to testing elite, she was a two-time Level 10 National Beam Champion. Li was destined to be a Bruin; her parents Yuejiu Li and Jiani Wu won Olympic medals for China at the 1984 Olympic Games, which were held at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.
Jenkins was a U.S. National Team member in 2003 after a 10th-place all-around finish in the junior division. She competed internationally at the 2003 Trophee Massilia in France and placed in the Top 20 in the all-around.
McCullough made the U.S. National Team in her first major elite competition, placing 11th in the all-around at the 2005 USA Championships. Just months prior to the USA meet, she won the vault, bars and floor at the Level 10 National Championships. The Bruins will have to wait to see McCullough in action, however, since she will miss the season after severing a tendon in her toe in a car accident in November.
With six meets in January alone, staying healthy and rested for the post-season will be key. Each member of the squad will play huge roles with this. Said Kondos Field, 'We are looking forward to competing our entire roster for the majority of the competition season, hoping to maintain the ability to switch athletes out throughout the first few months.'
Kondos Field is excited about the possibilities for the Bruins in 2007, stating, 'The combination we have this year of talent, enthusiasm and heart could see this team to another great year of UCLA Gymnastics.'