Women's Gymnastics Opens Season at Home on Sunday

Jan. 13, 2010

BERKELEY -

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The California Golden Bear women's gymnastics team gets the 2010 season underway when they host the Arizona State Sun Devils this Sunday, Jan. 17 at 2 p.m. at Haas Pavilion.

'I really think we could really surprise some people this year,' predicts eighth-year head coach Cari DuBois when speaking of her 2010 California Golden Bear women's gymnastics squad. 'We have a very young team, but we are very talented.'

The Bears have just one senior on this year's squad, but she is three-time West Regional participant. Senior Sophia Hocini is back for her final season with Cal, coming off a 2009 season where she earned First Team All-Pac-10 honors in the All-Around.

'There is not really much more Sophia can do this year to top what she did last year,' said DuBois, alluding to Hocini's stellar 2009 season. 'She hit 48 out of 50 routines. She is a very consistent competitor who knows how to perform week in and week out.'

DuBois and the rest of the Bears would love to be able to help Hocini accomplish the one thing she has yet to do in her collegiate gymnastics career: make the trip to the NCAA National Championships. For 25 of the last 26 seasons, Cal has had representation at the NCAA Regional competition. In 2007, Cal finished fourth at the NCAA Regionals.

Along with Hocini, the Bears have another very strong returning veteran to help guide the team toward the goal of Nationals. Avery Gee also competed at Regionals in 2009, participating in the floor exercise.

'Avery is going to have her best year ever,' predicts DuBois. 'She worked out every day while going to summer school. She has stepped outside her comfort zone and has become more open minded and very consistent. Her confidence has risen and I expect great things from her this season.'

Cal returns two other 2009 all-around competitors in junior Stefanie Cheng, a Pac-10 All-Academic honoree, and Erica Varon, who was thrust into competing in the All-Around in just her second collegiate meet.

'Erica improved in all four of her events with her work this summer. I see her competing on bars and beam for sure. She was state champion on floor her senior year of high school, so we'd love to have her competing with confidence in that event. We're adding in some new tumbling passes and if she can get those, I can see her being a strong competing on floor.'

As for the All-Around, Varon may compete in that as well, or she may just focus on her strongest events. This is not a unique situation just for Varon. This season, there may be fewer All-Around competitors for Cal and more gymnasts competing in their strongest events, a flexibility and luxury that the depth of talent on the 2010 roster affords DuBois.

'There are a bunch of them who could compete all around,' she explains. 'Every one of the gymnasts are all training to compete all around, so this is great for us. It will give us a chance to rest people, give us some flexibility instead of just using the exact same people every meet. You just have to try to prepare everyone to be ready to step up if they are called upon. I think they all want to compete as much as possible.'

In the mix will be two who saw limited action last season, sophomores Shana Johnson and Alex Leggitt and sophomore Leah Redon who did not compete her freshman season.

'Shana trained all summer long. She is really determined. She was not pleased with how her freshman year went, so she worked really hard to prepare to make her sophomore year go the way she has envisioned it.'

Alex Leggitt also has shown a lot of determination in building up her skill set, and the dividends are starting to show.

'I think she has a great shot at three events on a regular basis. We're adding some new passes for her on floor. We've added some new things on bars. Her beam is looking great. She has a great attitude. She has a love and a passion for the sport that I would love to see in every gymnast.'

Leah Redon has also made huge strides in the offseason.

'Leah looks stronger than ever and doing the best gymnastics I have ever seen her perform. I am looking forward to having her out there on the floor competing for the Bears this season.'

The depth is coming from the seven talented freshmen joining the squad this season.

Carol Chang tore her ACL in high school and will probably be limited to just doing bars and beam in the future, but DuBois feels she can really contribute in both of those areas.

'She has long lines and is very flexible. She is a beautiful gymnast and a beautiful person. She loves the sport and loves being in the gym. We love having her here.'

Nicolette Lew is a hard-working gymnast who takes notes from her coaches and immediately makes corrections, no questions asked.

'Nicolette has a very strong chance of competing all-around for us. Bars might be her weakest event, but she still is very strong in them. She has a chance to win a title on beam somewhere down the line. She has the skills and the look to do it.'

Madisyn O'Brien's strengths are her bars and beam routines, but she also has great potential on the other two events.

'She has a dynamic 9.9 start value vault, so I think she will be a consistent competitor on vault. I love her floor routine and how she performs it. We are working to add a little more difficulty on the tumbling. She's probably the best performer, she really gets into it, so hopefully we'll see her in the floor lineup as well.'

Stina Olivere had to ease into her training after undergoing surgery, but she has pushed herself in the training that she has been able to do to stay in shape for the season.

'She has been working hard on conditioning, flexibility, and visualization. She goes non-stop. You never have to tell her to do anything. She has done everything she could so that when she was cleared, she could jump back into things right away. Bars is her strongest event and we are looking forward to having her in the lineup.'

Mariesah Pierce looks to be a strong competitor in three events, if not in the all around this season.

'Mariesah has determination like I have never seen. She's a workhorse. She does whatever you ask and does it to the best of her ability. She is a beautiful gymnast. Mariesah sets her sights on a goal and never looks back.'

Arla Rosenzweig spent part of her summer competing on the US Team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, winning a silver medal with the team. She looks to be one of the contenders in all four events this season.

'She is an all-arounder with a 10.0 vault. Arla has a Big E release on bars. On beam, she is very clean and very consistent as well as being a strong competitor on floor. I see her making all-around on a regular basis.'

Ankita Shah has worked hard in the early conditioning sessions to prepare for the rigors of collegiate competition.

'Ankita is as strong as I have ever seen her-- strength and conditioning wise. She has transitioned really well into the college routine. She is just a pleasant, hard worker who is really exciting to have in the gym.'

Chelsea Spomer has been looking forward to being a collegiate gymnast. She will be a very valuable team member.

'Chelsea has tons of potential. She is going to be dynamite. She is springy and she is quick. And she wants it so bad. She just needs to stay positive and focused.'

Two more additions to the team this year come on the sidelines. Former Cal gymnast Jessica Kelley is beginning her first season as a Cal Assistant Coach, working with coaching on all events as well as with the floor choreography this season.

'Jess is doing a great job coaching. She brings a younger dimension to the coaching staff. She is competitive, and she really relates to the ladies, having been a Cal student athlete.'

Also added to the sidelines is Don Houlton, DuBois's new full-time assistant coach. Houlton has helped add technology to Cal's gymnastics workouts, adding TiVo recorders to practice sessions that allow the gymnasts an instant review of their performances.

'He's a great spotter. His knowledge of the sport of gymnastics and the developmental processes is probably the best I have had since being here at Cal. I believe we each cover each other's weaknesses and we each bring our own strengths which together will help build this program.'

The gymnasts open the season with a Co-ed Gymnastics Extravaganza, a fun, family-friendly exhibition co-hosted by the Cal men's gymnastics team on January 10. Their first official competition is Sunday, January 17 when they host Arizona State at Haas Pavilion.

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