2003 California Women's Gymnastics Season Outlook
Dec. 26, 2002
Berkeley, Calif. - After a 2002 campaign that was plagued by several season-ending injuries, a 5-9 record and a last place Pac-10 finish, first-year head coach Cari DuBois inherits the task of resurrecting the women's gymnastics program in 2003. The Bears welcome back nine returnees and three freshmen, as they aim for a return to the NCAA regionals after a one-year absence.
'Last season, the team had a lot of injuries and the team morale was really low,' said DuBois. 'This year I think you are going to see a whole different team out there in every possible way. We have a lot of talented athletes, but they didn't feel that they were any good last year ...their confidence had been shattered. I have brought a new attitude with me, and the team has jumped on board this season. They are working extremely hard and they're not complaining about any of it.'
With the loss of five experienced members from last year's team, the Bears will look for leadership and experience from the lone member of the senior class, returning tri-captain and Pac-10 Academic All-American Janet McKnight. She will lead a 2003 Golden Bear team that features two juniors, six sophomores and three freshman. McKnight, in her fourth season as a Cal gymnast, brings an invaluable sense of direction, knowledge and motivation to a relatively young and inexperienced squad.
Entering Cal as a freshman in 2000, McKnight was known mainly as a vault and bars specialist. In the two plus seasons since, she has become a three-event competitor by improving her skills on the balance beam. With one of the most difficult dismounts from the bars as anyone in the country, look for her to improve upon her career best mark of 9.875 on the bars this season.
The junior class features the remaining tri-captains, Stephanie Kim and Karissa Chock. Kim, an all-around specialist, holds the Cal all-time balance beam record with a mark of 9.925 against Stanford (2/18/01). Last year, she competed in eight meets for the Bears and participated in the Pac-10 championships, placing 15th overall.
'I recruited Stephanie when I was an assistant at West Virginia,' said DuBois. 'She is a great leader in every sense ... she has a great work ethic, great academics and her execution of skills is phenomenal.'
Chock, who only saw action in the first five meets last year due to an ankle injury, returns in 2003 as one of the more experienced members of the squad. Known for amazing audiences with her high-flying skills, Chock set career-highs on the vault (9.875) and bars (9.850) last season, before going down with an injury. If she can stay healthy this year, look for her to improve on the bars, where she already owns the school's fifth-best score of all-time.
Dodd, who had possibly the best season ever by a Cal freshman gymnast, positioned herself in the Top-5 of every category in Cal women's gymnastics history, all in just her rookie year. She qualified for the Pac-10 Championships and the NCAA West Regionals in all four events, tallying career-high marks in the beam (9.900) and floor (9.900) at the regionals. My-Lan capped off her season at the regionals by setting the Cal school record in the all-around with a score of 39.325. Dodd's floor routine in that meet merited a score of 9.900, the third best mark in Bear history. In addition, her vault performance mark of 9.850 earned her a second place finish at the regionals.
'My-Lan is one of the best gymnasts that I've ever seen,' said DuBois. 'She is beautiful to watch, you just can't take your eyes off of her in everything she does. She's very focused, an extremely hard worker and hasn't even reached her full potential yet. She has the possibility to be an All-American in every event as well as in the all-around.'
Aside from Dodd, Buack saw the most experience of any freshman in 2002. A strong all-arounder, she was a solid performer in all four events, competing in nine of the team's 10 meets. Participating in Cal's floor rotation in seven meets, Buack's mark of 9.875 against Oregon State placed her fourth in Cal's all-time record books. Maeda saw extensive action on the bars and beam as a freshman, capping off her inaugural campaign with an appearance at the Pac-10 Championships.
Garcia and Shipp were both limited by ankle injuries in 2002, but are expected to compete for spots on the starting rotation this year. Garcia, who competed on bars, beam and vault last season, missed the first four meets of the year, yet rebounded nicely to compete at the Pac-10 Championships. The 5-8 Shipp returns this season after participating in only four meets in 2002. Her unique and original style on the vault and beam will bring an added dimension to the team.
'The majority of our team are sophomores,' said DuBois. 'While the upperclassmen bring with them strong leadership and intercollegiate experience, we are going to depend on the younger ones for consistency and performance.'
With three highly decorated freshmen adding to the mix, Cal's future looks bright. Elite gymnasts Monique Chang and Anja Garcia, as well as Level 10 competitor Britani Pittullo, will provide the team with a little extra spark and are expected to have a positive impact on this year's squad.
Chang, who is a well-versed competitor with experience in both national and international competition, was a highly recruited athlete coming out of the Cardinal Gymnastics program in Fairfax Station, Va. The four-time USA National Team member looks to be competitive in the all-around competition. Garcia and Pittulo, both hailing from California, also have a shot at competing on this young squad.
'The incoming freshmen are all serious competitors,' said DuBois. 'The best thing about freshmen is that you never know what is going to happen. They seem to be catching on to the collegiate level of competition very quickly.'
Once again, the Pac-10 Conference looks to be one of the strongest conferences in the country. The Bears will face a competitive Pac-10 slate in 2003 that features matches against four of the nation'sTop-12 teams from a year ago. But, DuBois believes that this intense competition will only help the team, making them better and well prepared for when regionals roll around in early April.
The biggest test by far for this Bear team is when Cal travels to Los Angeles in just the second meet of the season to battle UCLA. The Bruins finished third in the nation last year and return eight All-Americans, including the defending NCAA all-around champion. The following week, in the first of four home meets in 2003, Stanford visits Haas Pavilion. The Cardinal finished sixth in the country last season and features three returning All-Americans. Other highlights on the Cal docket include traveling to Oregon State, 12th place finishers last season, and hosting Arizona, who placed 11th.
'The Pac-10 is arguably the best conference in the country,' said DuBois. 'We come in as the underdogs, but we have the talent and the depth to make a run in the Pac-10s. If we can stay healthy and consistent, I think we will surprise a lot of people this year.'