2004 Women's Gymnastics Outlook
Jan. 14, 2004
Berkeley, Calif. - After Cari DuBois' first season as head women's gymnastics coach, the Golden Bears took the first step and now have something to build on. DuBois, in her first year, took a 5-9 program in 2002 and turned it into a 12-5 one in 2003. The accolades poured in for the 2003 Bears as they rewrote the California record books. Last year's team holds the top three all-around scores in California school history, including the top four on vault and top three on beam. They finished the year ranked No. 18 in the country and went to NCAA Regionals finishing in fourth place - the best finish by Cal since taking third place in 1992.
'I had no idea what to expect,' said DuBois. 'Week after week we improved. It was incredible to see the athletes' confidence grow and see their performance improve. Last year was magical. We did things completely different than in the past and it paid off.'
Changing the gymnasts practice and weight room routine was the first step for DuBois. Now that the team has become comfortable with a new training regimen and bought into what DuBois and her staff have preached, DuBois believes in 2004 we will see even more of what these athletes are capable of.
'Last year we learned a lot of new skills,' said DuBois. 'We wanted the gymnasts to improve their skill level not maintain it. The result was some inconsistencies but in the long run it was worth it. Now that we have incorporated weight training, we are stronger for it. Physically this has become a whole different team. We had so many injuries before, but with the conditioning and a positive attitude this is one talented team. Last year we became physically prepared. Now we will get technically correct and polish our performance.'
With nine returnees from last year's squad, Cal has reason to believe it has the experience to go further in NCAA's than ever before. The team will be headed by seniors Stephanie Kim and Karissa Chock. Kim was an all-around performer, but had a career year last season in the floor exercise. In what has become her best event, she averaged a sparkling 9.854 over the year, while posting a career high and top five all time score for Cal (9.925) at UC Davis. Chock, who also competed in the all-around, posted her career highs on beam (9.850) and bars (9.850) both at the same meet in Berkeley. Both gymnasts are coming to the end of their collegiate road and will need to be solid contributors if the team is to reach its goals.
'It's their last shot so both of them are hungry and looking forward to a successful year,' said DuBois. 'Both are in incredible shape and will be key all-arounders for us this year. They have learned new skills, but will be more polished come competition. Stephanie is captivating, while Karissa is powerful and dynamic.'
NCAA Championship qualifier My-Lan Dodd headlines the junior class. Dodd followed up what was possibly the best season ever by a Cal freshman, by having an even more spectacular season her sophomore year. In one season, she claimed the top five all-around scores of all time at Cal, ranging from 39.675 to 39.425. Last year, she also recorded the best vault (9.950) and beam (9.950) scores ever by a Cal female gymnast. Her name appears through the Bears record book as if she was the only gymnast Cal had. Its scary to think this Seattle, Wash. native could get better.
'My-Lan is one of the top two gymnasts I've ever coached,' said DuBois. 'She never complains, and is very focused and calculating. Having her compete at NCAA's was great for the team because now she has been there and she can tell the others what it takes to get there. The main thing she could improve on is her presentation. At times she is too modest, while sometimes a gymnast needs that cockiness for the judges. Regardless, she has the ability of winning any event at National Championships.'
The other juniors on the team are Lauren Shipp and Miho Maeda. Shipp has fought through nagging injuries to come back strong this season. This could be the year she taps a wealth of potential in competition. Maeda had an impressive campaign last season, setting career highs on beam (9.950 - tied with Dodd for best score at Cal) and bars (9.850). She will surprise some people but not DuBois, who expects big things.
DuBois will also rely heavily on a sophomore class that is a combination of grit and talent. Monique Chang was a big part of the success the Bears had last season. She set career bests in vault (9.950), bars (9.850), and floor (9.925). Her vault is the best all time at Cal, tied with Dodd, while her bars and floor scores are both top five all time at Cal. Chang will likely see more time in the all-around this year after excelling in her three events last season.
'Monique is incredibly talented and a serious competitor,' said DuBois. 'She is stronger this year and her back issues have gone away. She has a very unique tumbling style and will be an all-around performer this season.'
The two other returning sophomores are Britani Pittullo and Anja Garcia. Pitttullo was a walk-on who was certainly worthy of the scholarship she was awarded this year. As an all-around competitor as a freshman, she was consistently excelled on beam (9.850) and floor (9.850), setting career highs and placing her in the top five all time for Cal. She has impressed DuBois with her fearless nature in practice. Her passion for the sport combined with her ability to acquire technique allows Pittullo to make great strides on a daily basis. Garcia makes her way back from elbow surgery this year, making it questionable whether she will be able to compete.
The new class if Cal freshman will be relied on yet again to compete right away. The talented triumvirate of Elyse Wong, Justine Cephus and Isabel Garcia will have the off-season to become tournament ready at the collegiate level. Wong will be looked on to compete in the all-around, although her best event is bars. Cephus, also a projected all-around competitor, is an explosive gymnast with top class ability on beam and floor. Garcia walked on to the team this fall and is expected to see competition on beam and floor.
'The freshman all have to learn how to compete at the collegiate level,' said DuBois. 'In club, it's all about the individual, but in college it is all about the team. If you make a mistake, your teammates are there to pick you up, and if one of your teammates has an off routine then you have to try and compensate for that. Once these girls get comfortable with that, they will be fine.'
Making it to nationals is no easy road for any team, but competing in the Pac-10 only magnifies how strong or weak your gymnastics team is. These Bears will face six teams that finished in the top 20 from a year ago, including defending national champion UCLA twice. This type of competition not only allows DuBois and her staff to see what the best competition looks like this year, but also for the athletes to realize that they are in fact on par with the best gymnasts in the country.
'All of our meets will be very competitive for the whole year. We are in the strongest conference in the country but that is to our advantage. Competing against top-flight teams forces you to score higher. That brings out the best in us, while it also helps the teams overall scores in our push toward NCAA regionals and Nationals.'
Last season, under the direction of DuBois, the Bears took the first step. But that was all it was. There is more work to be done if Cal is to achieve what DuBois knows her gymnasts are capable of.
'Finishing ranked No. 18 last year was a great confidence boost to the gymnasts,' said DuBois. 'But I don't want to just be top 20. I want to be contending for a national championship every year. If we continue to recruit well and this team stays positive in their mindset, I know we are capable of just that.'