Gymnastics Powerhouses Face Off Sunday As UCLA Hosts Georgia
Feb. 26, 2007
UCLA vs. Georgia - The sixth-ranked UCLA Gymnastics team (8-4) will host second-ranked Georgia (10-0-1) in the Bruins' home season finale on Sunday, Mar. 4. The meet will take place in Pauley Pavilion at 2 pm. UCLA and Georgia have been the premier teams in the nation in the last 10 years, with the two teams combining for nine of the last 10 NCAA titles. Overall, UCLA has won five NCAA titles (2004, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1997), while Georgia has won seven, including the last two consecutive (2006, 2005, 1999, 1998, 1993, 1989, 1987).
Star-Studded Event - Some of the biggest names in U.S. gymnastics will be competing in Pauley Pavilion on Sunday, with three Olympians battling it out. UCLA junior Tasha Schwikert was a member of the 2000 Olympic team and served as an alternate on the 2004 squad. In 2003, she was team captain of the U.S. squad that captured the country's first-ever World Championship gold medal. Georgia sophomore Courtney Kupets and freshman Courtney McCool were teammates on the 2004 silver-medal-winning Olympic team, along with former UCLA great Mohini Bhardwaj. Kupets also earned a bronze medal on the uneven bars at the Olympics and was a teammate of Schwikert at the 2003 Worlds but did not compete due to injury. UCLA and Georgia are a hotbed for national team talent - a combined 13 former National Team members from the U.S. and Canada are on the two teams' rosters. UCLA has six (Kristina Comforte, Ashley Jenkins, Brittani McCullough, Ashley Peckett, Jordan Schwikert and Tasha Schwikert), and Georgia has seven (Nikki Childs, Katie Heenan, Ashley Kupets, Courtney Kupets, Courtney McCool, Marcia Newby and Grace Taylor)
Live Coverage - Live scoring and free streaming video will be provided at uclabruins.com. The meet will also be televised on a delayed basis on local Time Warner cable station LA36 at a date yet to be announced.
Meet Promotions - Free meet program posters will be available to the first 500 fans. This week's program is a commemorative poster of UCLA's 1997 NCAA Championship team.
Senior Salute - UCLA seniors Ashley Peckett and Michelle Selesky will be honored in a pre-meet ceremony as they compete for the last time in Pauley Pavilion. The duo have been huge contributors and leaders for the Bruins, especially this season. Peckett has stepped into all-around duty in the last two meets and has been one of the steadiest competitors in UCLA history, hitting 87 of her last 89 routines (97.8%) without a fall. Selesky, a former walk-on, has come into her own this season and has competed in every meet on vault and floor exercise. In the season opener this year, she took home her first-ever event title, scoring a career-high 9.9 to win the floor exercise. She also tied for first on vault against Arizona with a career-high 9.9. Both Peckett and Selesky have been outstanding in the classroom as well, earning Scholastic All-America honors three-straight years with GPAs over 3.7.
UCLA's First NCAA Championship Squad To Be Honored - In a post-meet ceremony, UCLA will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of its first NCAA women's gymnastics title. Members of the 1997 squad are expected to be in attendance, including All-Americans Lena Degteva, Susie Erickson, Kiralee Hayashi, Leah Homma, Luisa Portocarrero, Amy Smith and Stella Umeh.
The Bruins won the 1997 NCAA title a year after placing a close second in Alabama. They entered the season ranked No. 1 in the pre-season but saw Georgia assume the role as favorites during a regular season in which it scored 198+ in the two meets leading up to the NCAA Regional meet. At the NCAA Super Six, however, Georgia succumbed to the pressure of starting on the balance beam, counting two falls, while UCLA remained undaunted, hitting five strong routines for a score of 49.2. The Bruins thrived from there and needed to score 49.25 on uneven bars in the final rotation to win their first title. UCLA had four underclassmen in the bars lineup, and they performed like veterans, with freshman Deborah Mink scoring 9.825 in the leadoff role, sophomore Kiralee Hayashi following with a 9.85 and freshman Lena Degteva nailing a 9.875. Junior Stella Umeh provided a 9.925, setting up freshman Heidi Moneymaker for an opportunity to clinch the title with a 9.775, and the freshman was money, scoring a 9.925. Senior Leah Homma's 9.95 to close the competition punctuated the evening for the Bruins, who totaled a season-high 197.15, three-tenths higher than second-place Arizona State.
In The Rankings - UCLA maintains its position at No. 6 in the national rankings with a Regional Qualifying Score (RQS) of 196.075, just .020 behind No. 5 Utah. The Bruins rank fourth on uneven bars (49.230), fifth on vault (49.220), sixth on floor exercise (49.055) and ninth on balance beam (48.770). Georgia ranks second overall with a team RQS of 197.095. The Gym Dogs are first on vault (49.360) and second on bars (49.325), beam (49.300) and floor (49.320).
Individually, the Bruins have six gymnasts in the Top 25 national rankings. Junior Tasha Schwikert is the only gymnast in the nation ranked in the Top 5 on every event and the all-around. She is tied for third in the all-around (39.335) and ranks second on beam (9.895), third on vault (9.930), fourth on bars (9.900) and tied for fifth on floor (9.890). Freshman Anna Li ranks No. 12 in the all-around (39.185) and No. 6 on uneven bars (9.890). Senior Ashley Peckett is tied for 17th on vault (9.855), and sophomore Ariana Berlin is tied for 19th on uneven bars (9.845). Georgia has two athletes ranked No. 1 - Katie Heenan in the all-around (39.505) and Courtney Kupets on beam (9.905).
Bruins Set The Bar In Quad Meet Victory - Behind a national season-best 49.7 on uneven bars, UCLA scored 196.25 to win the John Wooden Challenge on Feb. 25 over Denver (193.7), California (192.45) and Cal State Fullerton (191.925). The Bruins counted no score lower than 9.9 on bars, with Ashley Peckett recording a season-high 9.9, Tasha Schwikert and Anna Li posting 9.925s, and Ariana Berlin and Jordan Schwikert earning career-high 9.975s. The 49.7 tied for the fourth-highest bars score in UCLA history. In addition to tying for the win on bars, Berlin won the all-around with a career-high 39.325.
Follow The Lead-Off - As one of UCLA's most consistent athletes, sophomore Ariana Berlin has been an ideal lead-off competitor on three of four events. Berlin, last year's Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year, starts the Bruins off on vault, beam and floor and has been setting her teammates up for big scores with solid scores of her own. Against Oregon State on Feb. 16, she led off vault with a career-high tying 9.85, started off a stressful floor exercise set with another season-high mark of 9.775 and scored a leadoff 9.775 on beam to set the tone. In addition, she scored a season-high 9.85 on bars to record a career-high tying 39.25 in the all-around for the second-straight meet. She improved her overall marks on Feb. 25 in the John Wooden Challenge, this time winning the all-around with yet another career-high 39.325. She also earned her first career 9.9+ score, shattering her career-high with a near-perfect 9.975 on uneven bars. In her career, Berlin has hit 79 of her 82 routines (96.3%) without a fall. Berlin, whose training has been limited due to pain caused by the rod in her leg, ranks 19th in the nation on uneven bars and is averaging 39.275 in the all-around.
Jordan Schwikert Makes Successful All-Around Return - Junior Jordan Schwikert, who had been limited to just uneven bars in the Bruins' first five meets due to a hamstring injury, returned to all-around competition on Feb. 25, scoring 39.2 to place third in the John Wooden Challenge. Schwikert recorded a career-high 9.975 on uneven bars and posted season-bests on vault (9.9) and beam (9.875). In her first floor routine of the year, she hit her watered-down routine and scored 9.45. Her all-around return was a welcome sight for the Bruins, as Schwikert was an All-Pac-10 all-around performer as a freshman. She holds a career-high all-around score of 39.5 and has career-bests of 9.925 or higher on all four events.
Tasha Schwikert Back To 2005 Form - Junior Tasha Schwikert is back to the form that brought her the NCAA all-around title in 2005. Although she has sat out the last three meets on floor exercise to rest a strained Achilles, the two-time Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week has averaged a whopping 39.588 during her four-meet all-around winning streak. She has posted the top two all-around scores in the nation this year, a 39.7 vs. Arizona on Jan. 21 and a 39.675 at Cal State Fullerton on Jan. 19.
Twenty-two of Schwikert's 32 scores this season (69%) have been 9.9 or higher, including nine in a row and 19 of her last 21 routines. She leads the team with averages of 39.396 in the all-around, 9.903 on vault, 9.900 on floor and 9.844 on beam. She also averages 9.831 on bars. On the year, she has accumulated 24 individual victories, including four straight in the all-around and five straight on beam. Schwikert, a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team, missed nearly all of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery. She returned to competition in the last regular season meet of 2006 and also competed on three events in the Pac-10 and NCAA Regional meets. She qualified for the NCAA Championships on vault.
Peckett Picks Up Bruins - Long considered one of UCLA's most consistent performers, it was only natural to call upon Ashley Peckett to step in on balance beam with the Bruins short-handed the last two weeks. Although she had not competed beam since 2006 and had only competed on beam nine times prior in her four-year career, Peckett did not skip a beat her first time out, scoring a 9.775 at Oregon State on Feb. 16. In just her fifth ever all-around appearance, she scored 39.25 to tie for second place. On Feb. 25, she recorded a season-high 9.9 on uneven bars to help the Bruins record a national season-best 49.7 on the event. Peckett has hit 87 of her last 89 routines without a fall, including 28 of 29 this season.
Li Makes Stellar Debut - Freshman Anna Li made her Pauley Pavilion debut a memorable one, winning the all-around (39.0) and uneven bars (9.85) in her first collegiate meet on Jan. 6. Making the event even more special was the presence of her parents, Yuejiu Li and Jiani Wu, who had won Olympic team medals for China in the same arena at the 1984 Olympic Games. Li improved her all-around score the following week at Utah, scoring 39.2 to place fourth. She also placed second on beam with a 9.825. More career-highs were set at Fullerton on Jan. 19, as Li placed second in the all-around with a career-high 39.275. She also improved her personal-bests on vault (9.85 to tie for third), bars (9.875, second place) and beam (9.825 to tie for second). Li had an even better meet on Jan. 21 vs. Arizona, scoring a career-high 39.55 in the all-around to post what was then the highest score by any freshman in the nation. She also won the uneven bars with a career-high 9.95 and placed third on vault (9.825), second on beam (career-high 9.9) and tied for second on floor (9.875). Li, who is currently ranked 12th nationally in the all-around and sixth on uneven bars, has four individual victories this year, including three on the uneven bars. She also ranks second on the team with 20 Top 3 placings.
Making The Most Out Of Injury - Freshman Ashley Jenkins has been held out of the lineup on bars the last three meets and floor for two meets due to a hyper-extended elbow, but, ironically, the injury has brought her more success on balance beam. The Bruin coaches re-worked Jenkins' beam routine so as to not put any weight on her injured elbow, and the changes have brought out the best in Jenkins. Since the injury, she has scored career-highs of 9.8 twice and is averaging 9.79 on beam with the new routine. Jenkins returned to the floor exercise mat on Feb. 25 with another reworked routine and scored 9.55.
Selesky Shines - Senior Michelle Selesky has brought big scores to the Bruins in 2007. The former walk-on had only seen competition time just five times prior to this season but has been not only a mainstay but a top contributor on vault and floor. In the season opener, she won the floor exercise with a 9.9 and tied for third on vault with a 9.825 to make the medals stand for the first time in her career. Both scores were, at the time, two-tenths higher than her previous career-bests. She continued her success the following week, twice scoring 9.825s on vault and earning a 9.825 on floor at Utah to tie for fourth. She improved her personal-best on vault at Cal State Fullerton, scoring a 9.85 to tie for third place and improved it again against Arizona, scoring a 9.9 to earn her first vault victory, tying with teammate Tasha Schwikert. Selesky has placed in the Top 3 on vault in four meets and has been ranked in the Top 25 periodically on floor.
Padilla Providing Much-Needed Depth - Junior transfer Natalie Padilla has stepped in for her injured teammates with solid performances during the Bruins' last three meets. At Denver on Feb. 10, she earned a career-high 9.725 on beam, a 9.6 on bars and 9.325 on floor in her first competitive routines of the season on those events. At Oregon State on Feb. 16, she scored 9.725 on bars and a season-high 9.6 on floor to contribute to the team's second-highest team score of the season. Padilla recorded another season-high on uneven bars on Feb. 25, earning a 9.75 to help the Bruins along to a national season-best 49.7 on the event.
Dantzscher's Momentum Slowed With Injury - Sophomore Janelle Dantzscher's stress fracture in her foot could not have come at a worse time for her, as she had hit her stride in her last five competitions, averaging 9.84 on floor and 9.66 on beam. Dantzscher placed in the Top 3 on floor in her last four meets and has more Top 3 showings on floor than anyone on the team outside of Tasha Schwikert. Dantzscher scored a career-high 9.9 vs. Stanford on Jan. 15 and has placed second on the event in her last two consecutive meets. She was also coming off a season-best beam score of 9.725, set at Arizona State.
Comforte, McCullough Out For Season - Sophomore Kristina Comforte's long-time battle with ankle injuries has forced her out of competition for the year. An old fracture in her left ankle that has been causing her pain for the last four years was recently discovered, and she will sit out the rest of the year to heal. Comforte competed through the injury all of 2006 and earned first-team All-America honors in the all-around and on vault. She competed in six meets on balance beam this year, averaging 9.767, with a high of 9.825. Freshman Brittani McCullough, a 2006 U.S. National Team member, severed a tendon in her toe in a car accident in November and will redshirt the season.
About The Gym Dogs - Seven-time NCAA champion Georgia boasts one of the deepest squads in the nation. The Gym Dogs are the only team in the nation the last two seasons to post a score of 198, which they did in a 198.0-196.05 dual meet victory over Alabama on Feb. 10, 2007. Leading Georgia are top-ranked all-arounder Katie Heenan and fifth-ranked Tiffany Tolnay. Georgia also has a pair of Olympic medalists in Courtney Kupets and Courtney McCool. Kupets won the all-around, uneven bars (tied) and balance beam (tied) titles at the 2006 NCAA Championships. UCLA's all-time record against Georgia in regular season action is 4-13.
Two Meets To Be Televised On LA36 - UCLA home meets on Feb. 25 (vs. California, Cal State Fullerton and Denver) and Mar. 4 (vs. Georgia) will be televised on a delayed basis on Los Angeles cable station LA36. The station can be found throughout Los Angeles on Time Warner Cable and other LA-affiliated cable stations. Check your local listings for air dates and times.
High-Level Recruiting Class To Join UCLA In 2008 - Head coach Valorie Kondos Field signed another strong recruiting class during the early signing period, inking 2006 World Championships competitor and 2004 Olympic alternate Marci Bernholtz from Unionville, Ontario, Canada (ASF Gymnastics); international elite and 2003 U.S. Championships competitor Allison Taylor from Dallas, Texas (WOGA); and three-time Level 10 National qualifier Mizuki Sato from Fair Oaks, Calif. (Technique Gymnastics).
'We are looking forward to the addition of Marci, Allison and Mizuki to an already nationally competitive squad,h said UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field. 'They will round out the depth on every event for us in the future and will certainly enable us to continue our yearly challenge for the national title.'