Between The Bars

Jan. 6, 2008

The beginning of 2008 has proven to be the accumulation of four months of hard work, laborious training, and a fire that ignited two years ago that has finally fueled itself to a magnificent Blue and Gold Bruin Inferno. (O.K. that's a bit dramatic, but that's what it feels like being a part of this team.) There is a vast difference in the energy generated by our team this year versus the energy of most recent years past. Although we've had Kristina Comforte, Brittani McCullough, and Ariana Berlin in the gym with us the past few years, they weren't able to train. The energy that those three generate in their daily training rivals that of the most enthusiastic and competitive athletes we've ever had. In addition to having their high-powered positive energy, we've got back this year Melissa Chan, who is literally a bundle of positive, powerful, appreciative joy, and six amazing freshmen, who all bought into our training and team philosophies seamlessly.

Last Friday, we opened in Las Vegas against Oregon State and Arizona State. It was one of those meets where things could have gotten chaotic quickly; no fault of anyone's, just 'first meet issues'. However, simply because our athletes were so excited to compete, they weren't going to let any little annoying glitch get in their way of having a great time.

We talked about the equation to success in anything that produces a fulfilling reward. That equation involves Proper, Thorough, and Consistent Desire, Motivation, and Preparation which leads to Confidence. That feeling of Confidence eventually leads to a sense of Calm, which all accumulates into Fun and Pride in a job well done. Part of the fun is that when thorough preparation is achieved, there is no need to invite Hope into the equation.

Last year at NCAA's we had to rely on a little bit of Hope because we were taking the chance and competing athletes who hadn't been able to thoroughly prepare due to injury, i.e. Ariana and Jordan on floor. When we informed them they were going in, we knew they were mentally and emotionally prepared but hadn't been able to physically prepare, so Hope was desperately needed.

This last meet was totally different. Everyone who competed was thoroughly prepared and chomping at the bit to compete. We had mistakes, we had solid routines, and we had moments of brilliance. We also had a team dynamic of unfrazzled competitiveness, interwoven team chemistry, and unadulterated enthusiasm from the moment we got on the plane at LAX to the moment we got off the plane at LAX.

Moments of brilliance included Anna Li and her beautiful, confident, mellifluous gymnastics on all four events. Brittani McCullough is our next great superstar. She lit up the arena every time she performed. Kristina Comforte is effervescent in her enthusiasm to be able to compete gymnastics again. She went from being told she wouldn't be able to do gymnastics again last year before her last ankle surgery, to being able to compete in the all-around. Ariana is back with her fierce competitiveness and doing even better gymnastics than last season. We've still got tweaking to do with her FX, but she is our rock! Natalie Padilla hit a great Yurchenko layout half vault, exactly as she has been training all season. She has worked hard on becoming consistent, and it's paying off. Niki Tom competed or exhibitioned on every event, showing tremendous poise, especially on her Yurchenko full vault, which she competed for a 9.8 in only her third time she'd ever competed it. Mizuki Sato competed or exhibitioned on three events, and although she didn't hit as well as she would have liked, her competitiveness and demeanor throughout the meet is that of a future champion. Allison Taylor, who was finally released to start training again two weeks ago, came in on bars and hit a huge bar routine. Her fall came on her Tkatchev, which she missed from going a bit too hard. We were most pleased with her hitting her overshoot to handstand on the low bar, which she just learned. Jordan competed on beam and floor, as beautiful as ever. Marci came in on bars only, needing a bit more time to nurse some minor injuries.

Some of our most exciting moments came from Talia Kushynski, coming in on beam and floor exhibition. This is an athlete who Chris and I didn't really think would last fall training, only because it might prove to be too rigorous for her. She's one of those athletes who comes in, learns to love the challenge, and thankfully proved both of us wrong. She turned a corner with her training in October, and ever since has been on a mission to be a great gymnast. She stayed on beam, although her routine ended up being 1:38 long. I was literally telling her to 'Stop dancing and get off the beam'... I guess she was reveling in her glory of hitting her first routine as a Bruin. On floor is where she came alive, strutting her prowess as a trained hip hop and jazz dancer. And even though Shavahn Church isn't cleared yet to train (she had arthroscopic surgery in December to clean out her knee), it was exciting and heartwarming having her with us in her UCLA attire, helping out her teammates. I literally kept tearing up when I'd watch her encourage and coach her teammates as earnestly as if she herself were competing. I've known Shavahn since she was nine, when I choreographed her floor routine. I've been dreaming of her in UCLA attire for the past nine years. She, I, and her parents can't believe that she's finally here!

Tasha, Melissa, and Ashley Jenkins were all held out due to needing a bit more time to heal minor injuries.

We are ready for a GREAT season of competition. However you don't have to wait until our first home meet on Sunday, Jan. 27th to experience what I'm talking about. We'll showcase some of our routines this Sunday at our Meet the Bruins event, at the John Wooden Center 2:00pm. Happy and Healthy New Year wishes to all.

~ miss val

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