2002 Women's Gymnastics Outlook
Dec. 12, 2001
If success can be measured in national championships, then two-time defending NCAA Champion UCLA has to be the most successful women's gymnastics team in the past five years, having won NCAA team titles in 1997, 2000 and 2001, as well as nine individual NCAA titles.
However, Bruin head coach Valorie Kondos Field measures her team's success not on titles but on their commitment and their integrity in all facets of life. With that in place, the championships will come.
'This team has a very solid bond and a strong commitment from every single student-athlete on the team to being their individual best academically, athletically and socially. I expect nothing but 100 percent individual effort in these areas,' Kondos Field stated.
The Bruins have already shown their commitment, having dedicated their season to the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy, as well as to those devoted to the relief effort.
'We've had a lot of discussions about the tragedies that have befallen our country and the world,' said Kondos Field. 'We have discussed the gifts that we have living in freedom and living in a country that allows us to play games. Through this discussion, the team has made a commitment to taking a moment each day to appreciate all that they have, including the abilities to flip and twist at the level they do.'
And the level at which they do flip and twist is as high as any the NCAA has ever seen.
Among those returning from the two-time defending champions are defending NCAA all-around co-champion Onnie Willis, NCAA bars champion Yvonne Tousek and 2000 U.S. Olympians Jamie Dantzscher, Kristen Maloney and Alyssa Beckerman. The Bruins also return All-Americans Malia Jones, Kristin Parker and Doni Thompson, while adding three talented freshmen in Michelle Conway, Christie Tedmon and Natasha Desai.
The team is led by two seniors who have been extremely instrumental in the team's success both in the gym and in the classroom due to their work ethic and commitment. Valerie Velasco and Lindsey Dong may not have seen much competition time but have proven during key times in the season to be able to step in and perform well for the team.
Velasco has improved year in and year out and looks strong heading into the season. She has upgraded her routines and worked hard to improve her technique on bars and floor while remaining a solid competitor on the balance beam. Dong, a three-time Academic All-American has also been working hard to improve her routines and will provide needed depth to the vault and floor lineups.
The 'Fab Five' junior class returns as the core of the Bruin lineup, with four returning as All-Americans (Willis, Thompson, Parker and Jones) and three serving as team co-captains (Willis, Thompson and Carly Raab).
Willis became one of collegiate gymnastics' superstars last season when she won a share of the NCAA all-around title, UCLA's first ever. She also earned Top 5 finishes on bars (second) and floor (fifth) and scored two perfect 10s, one each on vault and floor. The eight-time All-American and Scholastic All-American is a dynamic and consistent performer who has been a true leader both on and off the floor.
Thompson's strength has been her consistency, a trait which she displayed in the most important of situations last season. During the last rotation at the NCAA Championships and with the Bruins leading by a small margin, Thompson led the team off on the balance beam with a career-high 9.9, setting the Bruins up for a title-clinching total of 49.575. Thompson is also one of UCLA's strongest bar workers, earning first-team All-America honors and averaging 9.855 last season with a high score of 9.95.
Parker earned first-team All-America honors on vault last year and scored her first-ever perfect 10 on the floor exercise. Known for her clean lines and powerful, difficult tumbling, Parker should be a strong all-around threat for the third consecutive year, owning a career-best score of 39.675.
Jones brings back her graceful and elegant style of gymnastics and adds to it with upgraded tumbling on floor and beam plus a new vault. Last year, she earned All-America honors on the balance beam and stepped up several times on all four events, winning for the first time in all-around competition at Arizona State.
Although unable to compete due to an ACL injury, Raab will contribute off the floor through her leadership, enthusiasm and work ethic.
'The true heart of the team remains in the junior class,' said Kondos Field. 'They came in as freshmen with a goal to win four championships, and they're halfway there. They've ensured that nothing dilutes the reputation or character of the team.'
The sophomores include four Olympians who have a tremendous amount of international experience. They bring with them not just an ability to compete under any type of pressure, but also the flair, poise and confidence of elite athletes.
Tousek, a two-time Canadian Olympian and defending NCAA uneven bars champion, returns as one of the top all-around competitors in collegiate gymnastics. She placed third in the all-around at last year's NCAA Championships and was first amongst all competitors during the NCAA Super Six Team Finals with a career-best of 39.65. Elegant and innovative routines are to be expected from the four-time All-American.
Three-time All-American Dantzscher opened her collegiate career last year by scoring two 10s in her first two routines. In all, the 2000 U.S. Olympian and 2001 Bruin team co-captain scored seven perfect 10s and is certain to add to her total this season. A crowd favorite, Dantzscher has new dynamic routines to show off and polished her performing skills along with Tousek at the Reese's Cup this past December.
Last year, Maloney became the first Bruin ever to score a perfect 10 on the balance beam and also scored a 10 on floor. She went on to earn first-team All-America honors on beam at the NCAA Championships, placing third. The two-time U.S. all-around champion and 2000 Olympian had surgery in August to remove a rod in her shin and will not be cleared to compete until she is fully recovered.
Olympic alternate Beckerman, on the other hand, is recovered from a wrist injury that held her out of most of 2001 and is expected to show off her graceful gymnastics on the balance beam and floor exercise.
Fellow sophomores Jamie Williams and Christy Erickson gained valuable experience a year ago and are expected to contribute again to the Bruins' depth, as is Trishna Patel, who redshirted a year ago while healing an ACL injury.
Rounding out the squad are the freshmen, who together bring a combination of flair, uniqueness and competitive drive. Conway is a 2000 Canadian Olympian who is spectacular on the balance beam, showing off difficult and dynamic moves such as the Homma Flairs and an illusion. Tedmon is a strong all-around competitor, having won both the state and regional all-around championships in 2001. Desai is the Level 9 regional bar champion and has a unique balance beam routine that is sure to please both the crowd and the judges.
'The freshmen are another dream class,' said Kondos Field. 'They came with a lot of physical and mental strengths while still allowing themselves to learn what it means to be a Bruin.'
With talent such as this, the Bruins are the favorites to repeat, and they will not take their position lightly. They have set lofty goals for the season, with one of their goals being an undefeated season. Kondos Field expects her 2002 squad to maintain the level its predecessors have achieved.
'I'm excited to see in this team the focus and determination of our teams from the last few years,' Kondos Field said. 'Day in and day out, our teams have competed their best without fear and without doubts. To do that one year was more than a lot of teams are able to achieve. To do that year in and year out and to have three NCAA Championships in five years says a lot about their mental commitment and strength.'
That strength will be tested early when the Bruins take on NCAA runner-up Georgia twice in three days to start the season. The Bruins also have home meets against Stanford and Michigan prior to facing Alabama on the road in March in a preview of the NCAA Championships, which will be held in Tuscaloosa. UCLA will no doubt be committed to making a return appearance in April to defend its championship.