2003 UCLA Gymnastics Season Outlook
Dec. 31, 2002
With a talented and deep returning class and two of the top gymnasts in the world entering as freshmen, the 2003 UCLA Gymnastics squad is poised to challenge for the NCAA title once again.
UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field says that this team 'on paper has the most depth ever assembled on a collegiate gymnastics team.' A quick glance at the roster would illustrate her point, as the Bruins boast five Olympians, eight World Championships competitors, eight All-Americans and three NCAA individual champions.
The Bruins, winners of two of the last three national team championships, are led by a senior class dubbed the 'Fab Five'. Two-thousand one NCAA all-around co-champion Onnie Willis, Doni Thompson, Kristin Parker, Malia Jones and Carly Raab have been extremely instrumental in UCLA's success the last three seasons. The seniors have won two NCAA team titles, three NCAA Regional championships and two Pac-10 titles and have also earned 19 All-America awards between them.
Following in the Fab Five's footsteps are the 'Great Eight' juniors, led by NCAA all-around, vault and floor champion Jamie Dantzscher and fellow Olympian and NCAA champion Yvonne Tousek. Other standouts in the junior class include All-Americans and Olympic teammates Alyssa Beckerman and Kristen Maloney and World Championships competitor Jeanette Antolin. Scholastic All-American and 2002 Most Improved Bruin Jamie Williams, as well as Christy Erickson and Trishna Patel, give the Bruins additional firepower and depth. These Bruin juniors have enjoyed tremendous international success as well as collegiate success, winning a national championship in their first year.
UCLA's three underclassmen - sophomore Christie Tedmon and freshmen Kate Richardson and Holly Murdock - have achieved tremendous success at the club level and look to continue that success collegiately. Tedmon, a former Level 10 regional and state all-around champion, returns after missing last season with a broken foot, an injury that occurred during her first collegiate routine. Richardson was a member of Canada's Olympic team in 2000 and placed 15th in the all-around. In 2002, she captured the Commonwealth Games all-around and beam titles. Murdock was a two-time World Championships competitor for Great Britain and placed an all-time British-best 14th in the all-around in 2001.
'We have great talent, character and leadership and an excited group of underclassmen who are enjoying being led,' said Kondos Field. 'On top of that, we have had tremendous academic success. What more could anyone ask for out of a student-athletic program?'
The implementation of the new vaulting table to collegiate gymnastics this year has strengthened an already potent Bruin vault lineup.
'You will see more explosive vaults this year because the new table allows for more aggression in the vault due to the larger platform to place your hands,' explained Kondos Field.
'Our vault team looks to be stronger than any we've had in many years partly because of the apparatus and mainly because of the talent,' she continued.
Last season's vault crew ranked amongst the nation's leaders and set a school record for team score with a 49.7, led by perfect 10s from Jamie Dantzscher and Onnie Willis. All but one of UCLA's regular vaulters return in 2003, including NCAA champion Dantzscher, and most will be competing 10.0-valued Yurchenko-style vault. The Bruins also gain two strong vaulters in Kate Richardson and Holly Murdock.
Uneven bars has been UCLA's strength for the last couple of years. Regarded as the nation's finest bars team, the Bruins have had 12 first-team All-Americans and two NCAA champions on this event in the last three years. This season looks to be no exception, as UCLA returns all of their performers from last year's top-ranked bars team, including Pac-10 co-champions Dantzscher, Willis and Doni Thompson and 2001 NCAA champion Yvonne Tousek. From top to bottom, the Bruins have bar workers capable of scoring 9.9 or better on a weekly basis.
The Bruins have been upgrading their skills on the uneven bars and will display a variety of different skills on the event. Skills to watch include inverted giants from Jeanette Antolin and Kate Richardson, a new exciting release sequence from Dantzscher that has never before been competed at the collegiate or international level, and Pak saltos being introduced by Kristin Parker, Christie Tedmon and Malia Jones. In addition, the Bruins look to add to their lineup the 2000 U.S. bars silver medalist, Alyssa Beckerman, for the first time in her collegiate career.
'Uneven bars is looking very strong for us,' said Kondos Field. 'Once again, we're adding two freshmen who are very strong on this event to an already very talented bars team.'
On the most pressure-filled event for most teams, UCLA has proven over the years to be exceptionally strong on the balance beam, clinching their last two NCAA titles on this event.
'On an event filled with nerves, it's nice to be able to see a team compete with such confidence on four inches,' said Kondos Field.
Once again, UCLA returns its full arsenal, led by first-team All-American and Pac-10 co-champion Alyssa Beckerman. The 2000 U.S. national beam champion scored 9.9 or higher in seven meets at the anchor position last year. Yvonne Tousek is another strong competitor for the Bruins - she competed 11 routines last season without a miss and averaged a team-best 9.841.
The Bruins had incredible depth on beam a year ago and are even more loaded now with emergence of Jeanette Antolin as an all-around performer, the return of Christie Tedmon from injury and the addition of two of the best beam workers in the world in 2002 Commonwealth Games beam champion Kate Richardson and 2001 British beam champion Holly Murdock.
UCLA will display unique and difficult skills such as a full-twisting backhandspring from Antolin, a sideways backhandspring named after and performed by Tousek, a mount handstand hold into two immediate layouts from Richardson and a unique mount from Murdock - a front flip sideways onto the beam in a sitting position.
Once again, the Bruins have all new floor exercise routines, ones in which the team will show off their flair, charisma and beautiful dance as well as tumbling that is as strong as ever.
'Ever year I try to challenge our student-athletes with the style of dance they perform, and this year I've challenged them even more so than in the last few years,' said Kondos Field. 'For example, Jamie Dantzscher is competing a style of dance she's never competed before. It's extremely difficult and intricate dance choreography, even for a dancer.'
Other Bruins will also be getting new styles of choreography. Kristin Parker is moving from Irish-influenced music to hard core rock and roll, Alyssa Beckerman will have a Middle-Eastern, borderline belly-dance, style, and Malia Jones will perform to a funky 60's type of music.
The Bruins traditionally are one of the top teams in the nation on floor exercise and are led by the nation's top floor performer in Jamie Dantzscher. Last season, Dantzscher set a national record by scoring a perfect 10 in seven consecutive meets. Onnie Willis is a first-team All-American on floor and has scored two tens on this event in her career, and Parker scored a perfect 10 in 2001.
Kondos Field states that the team's goal on floor is to maintain clean, strong tumbling over the season with little to no mistakes.
UCLA opens its season in paradise, facing Oregon State in Hawaii on Jan. 2. From there, the Bruins will travel to Utah to face the Utes and their daunting 170-meet home court winning streak. UCLA opens at home on Jan. 19 against California, UC Davis and Cal State Fullerton.
The Bruins will have five regular season home meets in 2003 and will also play host to the Pac-10 Championships on Mar. 29. UCLA hopes to conclude its season atop a podium in Lincoln, Nebraska at the NCAA Championships on Apr. 24-26.