UCLA Opens Season Friday In Las Vegas At Lady Luck Invitational

Jan. 2, 2008

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Bruins Open 2008 Season In Vegas -- The UCLA gymnastics team, ranked No. 4 in the pre-season coaches poll, will open the 2008 season in a three-team invitational in Las Vegas. The Lady Luck Collegiate Invitational, hosted by Brown's Gymnastics - Las Vegas, will take place at the South Point Hotel & Casino's Exhibition Hall at 7:00 pm. Also competing are No. 11 Oregon State and No. 18 Arizona State. Tickets to the meet are available at the Exhibit Hall box office for $15. Doors open at 6 pm.

Live Coverage -- Live scoring will be available at UCLABruins.com.

In The Rankings -- UCLA opens the season ranked No. 4 in the pre-season coaches poll. The Bruins finished fourth at the 2007 NCAA Championships. UCLA will face nine of the Top 25 teams this season, including No. 1 Georgia on the road and No. 3 Utah, No. 5 Stanford and No. 6 Alabama at home.

About The Bruins -- Five-time NCAA champion and defending Pac-10 champion UCLA is coached by four-time national coach of the year Valorie Kondos Field. The Bruins return four All-Americans from last year's squad - 2005 NCAA all-around champion and 2000 U.S. Olympian Tasha Schwikert, 2006 NCAA vault runner-up and two-time All-American Kristina Comforte, 2005 balance beam All-American Jordan Schwikert and four-time All-American Anna Li. Also returning are 2006 Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year Ariana Berlin, junior Melissa Chan, senior Natalie Padilla and sophomore Ashley Jenkins. In all, UCLA returns eight athletes who competed at the NCAA Championships last season, along with redshirt freshman Brittani McCullough.

The Bruins bring in a talented freshman class of six who will provide a much-needed depth to the squad. The freshman class is a strong mix of Elite and Level 10 gymnasts - two-time World Championships competitor Marci Bernholtz, 2005 Worlds competitor Shavahn Church, 2003 USA Championships competitor Allison Taylor, 2007 Level 10 National bronze medalist Mizuki Sato, 2007 Level 10 Top 5 finisher Niki Tom and Level 10 regional competitor Talia Kushynski.

With a squad 15-deep, the Bruins have strength in numbers for the first time in a few years, and UCLA will take advantage of that depth as it goes through the regular season in preparation for the post-season, Line-ups are expected to be shuffled continually in order to rest key athletes and give the freshmen more experience, and the battle to make the line-up will give each athlete an added competitive edge.

Schwikerts Come Home For Season Opener -- UCLA seniors Tasha and Jordan Schwikert will be back in their hometown of Las Vegas for the first and last time as collegiate athletes. The Schwikerts, who have not competed in the Las Vegas area in four years, trained at Gymcats under coach Cassie Rice and attended Centennial HS. Tasha was a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team and went on to win a total of six individual U.S. National Championships, including the all-around titles in 2001 and 2002. Jordan was a U.S. National Team member from 2001-02 and a standout Level 10 competitor in 2004, placing second in the all-around and on bars at the National Championships. At the collegiate level, both are All-Americans, with Tasha winning the 2005 NCAA all-around title along with Pac-10 all-around titles in 2005 and 2007.

Comforte, McCullough Back To Form -- After missing either all or most of the 2007 season, redshirt freshman Brittani McCullough and Kristina Comforte are back with a vengeance in 2008. McCullough, a 2005-06 U.S. National Team member, missed all of last year after a November 2006 car accident in which she severed a tendon in her toe. Comforte, also a 2005-06 U.S. National Team member as well as a two-time All-American, was limited to just balance beam in the first month of the 2007 season after undergoing off-season shoulder and ankle surgery, and her injury issues took a turn for the worse in February when an old ankle fracture was discovered, putting her out for the year. Both Comforte and McCullough are expected to be top all-arounders this season.

Church Expected To Redshirt -- Freshman Shavahn Church is expected to redshirt the season after undergoing successful knee surgery late last month. Church, who was a late addition to the Bruin squad, joining the team for the start of this winter quarter, will have to wait to make her collegiate debut. The British National Team member was a Top 20 all-around finisher at the 2005 World Championships and won a silver medal on uneven bars at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Valley Girls -- Half of UCLA's six-member freshman class hail from the San Fernando Valley. The Bruins' 'Valley Girls' are Shavahn Church (Tarzana/Laurel Springs HS), Talia Kushynski (Sherman Oaks/Van Nuys HS) and Niki Tom (Northridge/Chatsworth HS). Church and Kushynski trained at Waller's GymJam Academy in Santa Clarita, while Tom trained at JAG in Culver City.

New But Familiar Face -- Along with the Bruin freshmen, UCLA has another newcomer to the 2008 squad in assistant coach Jim Foody. But Foody is no stranger to UCLA Gymnastics. He was a member of the UCLA men's gymnastics squad and won the NCAA uneven bars title and the MPSF parallel bars title in 1994. Foody, a 1997 UCLA graduate, was a three-year member of the U.S. National Team and a member of the USA's 1997 World Championship team and 1999 World University Games team. He also competed at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Meet The Bruins Set For Jan. 13 -- UCLA will host its annual Meet the Bruins exhibition on Sunday, Jan. 13 at the John Wooden Center at 2 pm. Admission is free to the public. Spectators will be treated to exhibition performances and skills demonstrations from the Bruins, as well as question and answer sessions with the gymnasts and UCLA coaches. Fans will also be given a crash course in Gymnastics 101 - an educational look at the construction of gymnastics routines. After the exhibition, spectators can obtain autographs and have pictures taken with the team. Season tickets and media guides will be on sale at the event, and team cards will be distributed at the door.

Bruins Sign Top-Level Recruiting Class For 2009 -- The Bruins received national letters of intent during the early signing period from three standout Level 10 gymnasts. Joining UCLA for the 2009 season will be Vanessa Zamarripa of Shiloh, IL, Kaelie Baer of Columbus, IN and Tauny Frattone of Lake Forest, CA. Also in next year's freshman class is 2006 World Championships bronze medalist Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs of Toronto, Canada, who signed last spring and is deferring enrollment until 2008.

Zamarripa, who trains at Midwest Twisters and attends O'Fallon HS, is one of the most decorated gymnasts in Junior Olympic history, having won the 2007 Senior A national all-around and beam titles, as well as consecutive Junior national all-around titles from 2003-04. Baer, a former Junior National Elite who comes from DeVeau's School of Gymnastics and attends Columbus East HS, tied for the vault title and placed second in the all-around at the 2007 Level 10 National Championships (Senior B division). She also competed at the 2005 Nationals and had a Top 20 finish at the 2004 Nationals, placing fourth on vault, sixth on beam and 10th on floor. Frattone, a three-time Level 10 National Championships competitor, trains at Olympic Gymnastics Academy and attends El Toro HS. At last year's National Championships, she earned a Top 15 all-around finish and placed fifth on floor in the Senior A division. She won the 2007 State all-around and vault titles and earned bronze medals on bars and floor.

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