UCLA Gymnasts To Compete For NCAA Championship Berth At Regional Meet

April 7, 2008

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This Week -- Ninth-ranked UCLA (18-6) will head to Gainesville, FL for the NCAA Southeast Regionals with a berth in the 2008 NCAA Championships on the line. The Regional meet will take place at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Saturday, Apr. 12 at 7 pm ET. The other five teams competing at the Regional meet are third-ranked Florida, 15th-ranked Nebraska, 21st-ranked North Carolina State, 25th-ranked West Virginia and 34th-ranked North Carolina. The top two teams at each of the six regionals will advance to the NCAA Championships, held Apr. 24-26 in Athens, GA.

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

Rotation Order -- The Bruins will begin the meet on uneven bars and then will move to beam, a bye, floor exercise, then vault. UCLA ends the meet on a bye. Nebraska got the favored Olympic order, starting on vault. Florida begins on a bye before bars. North Carolina State starts on beam, West Virginia on a bye before floor, and North Carolina begins on floor.

Three Of 2007's Top Six Teams To Battle It Out -- With half of last year's Super Six field assigned to the Southeast Regional, at least one of these Super Six participants will be left out of the 2008 NCAA Championships field. At the NCAA Super Six a year ago, Florida placed third, UCLA fourth and Nebraska sixth. Only the top two finishers at the Regionals will qualify to the NCAA Championships. The three teams have made a combined 66 NCAA Championship appearances (Florida - 25, UCLA - 23, Nebraska - 18).

Regional Championship History -- The Bruins have won 17 regional titles, including eight in the last nine years. Last season, UCLA placed first at the Southeast Regional at West Virginia. A Bruin gymnast has won the all-around title at their regional in each of the last nine years, most recently Tasha Schwikert in 2007.

Another Cross Country Trip -- Another long-distance trip is on the horizon for the Bruins, who have already traveled to Chicago, IL and Athens, GA for regular-season meets this season. The long travel has not affected the Bruins, though. UCLA's top two scores of the season came on those trips - 196.875 at Chicago and 196.925 at Georgia.

A Look At The Opponents -- Florida (12-3-1) owns the highest single-meet score of the season, a 197.925 set Feb. 15 against LSU. The Gators, who tied for second at the SEC Championships, just .025 out of first place, have five returning All-Americans in Amanda Castillo, Corey Hartung, Tiffany Murry, Ashley Reed and Melanie Sinclair. Nebraska (10-7) finished in fourth place at the Big 12 Championships and holds a season-best of 196.675, set Jan. 25 against Missouri. The Huskers are led by All-Americans Emily Parsons, Tricia Woo and Desire' Sniatynski. North Carolina State (24-8) placed second at the EAGL Championships and holds a season-best score of 196.05. The Wolfpack are strong on floor exercise, ranking 15th in the nation with a RQS of 49.050. Leigha Hancock (10th) and Taylor Seaman (15th) rank in the Top 15 in the nation on the event and tied for the EAGL title with scores of 9.95. West Virginia (23-8) won the EAGL Championship for the sixth time this year. The Mountaineers own a season-high of 196.175. North Carolina (19-9) finished in fourth place at the EAGL Championships despite being forced to compete just five people on vault and bars due to injuries. EAGL Gymnast of the Year Christine Nguyen won the all-around with a score of 39.475 and vault with a 9.95. She ranks ninth nationally on beam.

Gators Have Bruin Ties -- Florida has strong ties to UCLA, starting with Gator head coach Rhonda Faehn, who was a Bruin gymnast from 1990-92 and an undergraduate assistant coach from 1992-94. Faehn earned All-America honors in the all-around and on beam in 1992 and also won the Pac-10 bars title that season. Gator sophomore gymnast Maranda Smith was on the UCLA team in 2006 and competed in two meets before being sidelined for the season with a shin injury. After leaving UCLA prior to the 2007 season, she attended Sierra Community College and then transferred to Florida this January. Smith was part of UCLA's big 2006 freshman class that included Ariana Berlin, Melissa Chan and Kristina Comforte.

In The Rankings -- UCLA finishes the regular season ranked No. 9 in the national rankings with a Regional Qualifying Score (RQS) of 196.510. The Bruins are ranked second on uneven bars (49.35), sixth on vault (49.315), 10th on beam (49.125) and tied for 16th on floor (49.025).

The Bruins have two gymnasts ranked in the Top 3 on uneven bars - No. 2 Anna Li (9.925) and No. 3 Tasha Schwikert (9.920). Two Bruins are also ranked in the Top 25 in the all-around - No. 14 Li (39.385) and No. 24 Jordan Schwikert (39.315) - and on vault - No. 8 Tasha Schwikert (9.915) and No. 16 Brittani McCullough (9.895).

Bruins Place Third At Pac-10s -- UCLA trailed by just .175 heading into the final rotation but could not successfully defend its Pac-10 title, placing third after having to count a fall on floor exercise. The Bruins were forced to put in a makeshift floor lineup due to nagging injuries and illness. Ariana Berlin led the Bruins with a third place finish in the all-around, scoring a season-best 39.4. Tasha Schwikert won her seventh career Pac-10 individual title, claiming a share of the uneven bars crown with a season-best 9.95.

Berlin Big For Bruins At Pac-10s -- Junior Ariana Berlin had a big meet at the Pac-10 Championships, placing third in the all-around with a season-high 39.4 despite competing as the leadoff gymnast on three events and second up in the lineup on the fourth. Berlin set her teammates up beautifully on vault, bars and beam, scoring 9.8 on vault, a season-high 9.9 on bars and a season-high 9.85 on beam. She also had a season-high 9.85 on floor in the No. 2 slot.

In 22 of 37 leadoff routines this season, Berlin has recorded a score of 9.8 or greater. The consistent Berlin averages 9.74 or higher on all four events, including 9.8 on vault, and has hit all nine of her beam routines this year for 9.7 or higher. In her career, she has hit 138 of 144 routines without a fall for a hit percentage of Has hit of 138 of 144 career routines without a fall for a hit percentage of 95.8%.

McCullough Named Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year -- Redshirt freshman Brittani McCullough was selected as the Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year after a season in which she finished the regular season ranked in the Top 35 in the nation in the all-around and in the Top 20 on vault. McCullough's season was cut short on Mar. 9 when she ruptured her left Achilles tendon during her floor exercise routine. Prior to her injury, she had competed all-around in seven meets, averaging 39.1 and placing in the Top 3 in six of those seven meets. She scored a season-best 39.375 twice and had three vault victories and five 9.9 scores on that event. McCullough also had one victory on balance beam with a 9.9 and two on floor exercise.

Four Bruins Earn 1st-Team All-Pac-10 Honors -- Ariana Berlin, Anna Li, Jordan Schwikert and Tasha Schwikert were named to the Pac-10 All-Conference team. Berlin, Li and Jordan Schwikert received first-team honors in the all-around, while Tasha Schwikert was named to the first team on vault and uneven bars. Berlin's all-conference honor was the first in her career, while Li repeated in the all-around. Jordan Schwikert earned her third career honor after receiving all-conference acclaim on uneven bars last year and in the all-around as a freshman. Tasha Schwikert picked up her seventh career honor.

Four Also Selected To Pac-10 All-Academic Team -- Juniors Ariana Berlin and Kristina Comforte and senior Tasha Schwikert were selected to the Pac-10 All-Academic second team, and senior Natalie Padilla received honorable mention acclaim. The three second-teamers are each receiving their second career Pac-10 academic awards after earning honorable mention acclaim a year ago. Berlin holds a 3.50 in World Arts and Culture, while sociology majors Comforte and Schwikert have GPAs of 3.37 and 3.22, respectively.

Schwikerts Surging -- Seniors Tasha Schwikert and Jordan Schwikert have been on fire as of late. Although consistently good all season, each has been building their scores as the season has progressed. Tasha is in vintage Tasha Schwikert 9.9 form, scoring 9.9 or better in 15 of her last 21 routines. She has improved her all-around total in each of her last four efforts, going from 39.55 on Feb. 8 and Feb. 24 to 39.625 on Mar. 2 and finally to a season-best 39.675 on Mar. 9. She has scored 9.925 or better on her last four floor routines, with a 9.975 coming on Mar. 2, and 9.9 or better on five of her last six vaults. Tasha has been the Bruins' most consistent gymnast, hitting 37 of her 38 routines on the year, including 33 in a row. Jordan, although often competing in the early half of the lineup, has scored 39.35 or better in four of her last five meets, with a season-best of 39.4 coming Mar. 9. She has scored 9.875 or better on floor in her last five meets, hitting a career-high tying 9.925 on Mar. 15 at Georgia and a third-place mark of 9.9 at Pac-10s. Jordan has six 9.9+ scores on the year and has hit 38 of her 40 routines on the year.

Comforte Back Strong On Three Events -- Two months after a knee injury that at first glance looked like a season-ending injury, junior Kristina Comforte has worked her way back into the competition lineup on three events. Comforte injured her right knee on Jan. 27 during her floor exercise routine. Fortunately, the injury was not as bad as it looked, and she was sidelined for four meets with a significant bone bruise. She returned to the competition lineup on Feb. 24 against Utah, scoring a 9.825 on uneven bars. A week after that, she returned to the vault lineup and stuck a big Yurchenko full for a 9.9 and then added a season-high tying 9.9 on uneven bars. Comforte added balance beam back to her repertoire on Mar. 15 at Georgia and scored a career-high tying 9.9 on her first routine back since the injury. She equaled that mark at the Pac-10 Championships, tying for fourth place.

Church Makes Memorable Debut -- In her first ever competitive routine as a Bruin on Feb. 24, freshman Shavahn Church earned a 9.85 on the uneven bars, placing fourth overall against Utah. She scored 9.825 a week later against Oregon State. Church, who missed the first half of the season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in late December, was a 2005 World Championships competitor for Great Britain and 2006 Commonwealth Games medalist. She was also a member of the U.S. Junior National Team in 2003.

Bars Team Hardly Uneven -- With the return of Kristina Comforte and the addition of Shavahn Church, the Bruins are loaded on uneven bars. The bars team of Ariana Berlin, Brittani McCullough, Church, Jordan Schwikert, Comforte and Tasha Schwikert racked up a season-high total of 49.425 against Oregon State, with all six gymnasts scoring 9.825 or better and the final three all going 9.9+. That lineup did not even include Anna Li, who is ranked No. 2 in the nation on bars and sat out that meet with a concussion. Li has a career and season-high 9.975 and averages 9.866 on the year, with six scores of 9.9 or better.

The Bruins have scored 49+ on bars in the last nine meets. Career-highs from the Bruins on bars include a 10.0 from Tasha Schwikert, 9.975s from Berlin, Jordan Schwikert and Li, 9.95 from Comforte, and 9.85 from Church in just her first-ever collegiate routine. Also capable of 9.8+ scores are Allison Taylor (season-high 9.8 set at Cal) and two Bruins who have yet to see action this year on bars - Melissa Chan and Ashley Jenkins, both of whom have career-bests of 9.825.

Freshmen Get In Mix -- The Bruin freshmen have been making big contributions this season. Mizuki Sato is a regular in the Bruins' floor lineup and has twice recorded season-bests of 9.875. She also had a big mark in an exhibition beam performance at Arizona, scoring 9.825. Niki Tom has competed in eight of 12 meets on the year, recording highs of 9.825 on vault and floor and 9.85 on beam. At Georgia, she came in as a late sub on floor and scored 9.775 and then tied her career-high on beam with a 9.85. Allison Taylor has posted a high of 9.8 on bars and got her first taste of action on floor exercise at Arizona. Marci Bernholtz has a high of 9.875 on the balance beam with a first-place showing at Fullerton and a second-place finish against Stanford. Talia Kushynski competed on floor exercise at Fullerton and scored 9.675 in her competition debut. She also hit her exhibition beam routine in Las Vegas for a 9.5. Shavahn Church made her collegiate debut on the uneven bars against Utah Feb. 24 and scored 9.85 to place fourth.

Streaks -- Tasha Schwikert has hit 33 routines in a row and 37 of 38 this season ... Dating back to last year, Schwikert has hit 96 of her last 97 routines ... In her career, she has hit 157 of 163 routines (96.3%) without a fall ... Schwikert has also hit 38 straight vaults for 9.8 or better and has scored lower than 9.8 just once in her career (9.75) ... Younger sister Jordan Schwikert has been just as consistent this year, hitting 37 of 39 routines ... Ariana Berlin has competed in 40 straight meets and has hit 138 of 144 career routines (95.8%) without a fall, including 32 in a row ... Anna Li's streak of 22 straight meets competing in the all-around ended Feb. 22 when she did only two events at Arizona ... The Bruins had a streak of hit balance beam routines end at 30 on Feb. 17 at Cal. UCLA has hit 6-for-6 on beam in six of 11 meets this year.

Schwikert To Be Inducted Into USAG Hall Of Fame -- Senior Tasha Schwikert will be inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame this summer as a member of the 2003 U.S. Women's World Championships Team. She was the team captain of the 2003 U.S. squad that won the country's first-ever team gold medal at the World Championships. Schwikert, who was also a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team and a two-time U.S. all-around champion, is the first UCLA woman to be inducted in the USAG Hall of Fame.

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 three-time Level 10 national all-around champion Vanessa Zamarripa of Shiloh, IL (Midwest Twisters/O'Fallon HS); 2007 Level 10 national vault champion and all-around runner-up Kaelie Baer of Columbus, IN (DeVeau's/Columbus East HS); and three-time Level 10 national qualifier Tauny Frattone of Lake Forest, CA (Olympic Gymnastics Academy/El Toro HS). 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 Fall 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. This weekend, she won the all-around, vault and bars titles at the State Championships. 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. At the State level, she won the all-around and vault titles in 2007 and the vault and bars titles in 2008.

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