UCLA Gymnastics Squad Opens 2007 Season In Pauley Pavilion On Saturday

Jan. 2, 2007

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UCLA To Kick Off 2007 Season Jan. 6 - The five-time NCAA champion and fifth-ranked UCLA gymnastics team will open the 2007 season on Saturday, Jan. 6 with a home meet against Washington. The meet will take place in Pauley Pavilion at 6 pm. A limited amount of free meet program posters will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. This week's program poster features Bruin newcomers Ashley Jenkins, Anna Li, Brittani McCullough and Natalie Padilla. Team cards will also be distributed to the first 500 fans in attendance.

Live Coverage - Live streaming video and live scoring will be available for all of UCLA's home meets at www.uclabruins.com. Video access is free for registered users of UCLA All-Access.

Tickets - Tickets to UCLA gymnastics meets are available for sale on a season ticket or single-meet basis. For the best value, UCLA offers a season ticket package that costs $30 ($6/meet) and are located in the reserved section. Single-meet tickets are $12 (adult)/$10 (youth) for reserved and $8 (adult)/$6 (youth) for general admission. UCLA students are free with valid ID.

UCLA Ranked No. 5 In Pre-Season Poll - UCLA enters the year ranked No. 5 in the pre-season coaches' poll. Defending NCAA champion Georgia is the pre-season No. 1, with 2006 runner-up Utah ranking second. Florida is third, followed by Alabama and UCLA. The Bruins will face eight of the Top 25 teams this season, including three of the Top 4.

About The Bruins - Five-time NCAA champion UCLA is coached by four-time national coach of the year Valorie Kondos Field. The Bruins return three All-Americans from last year's squad - 2005 NCAA all-around champion and 2000 U.S. Olympian Tasha Schwikert, 2006 NCAA vault runner-up and two-time All-American Kristina Comforte and 2005 balance beam All-American Jordan Schwikert. Also returning is 2006 Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year Ariana Berlin, seniors Ashley Peckett and Michelle Selesky and sophomore Janelle Dantzscher.

Newcomers include former U.S. National Team members Ashley Jenkins and Brittani McCullough, two-time USA Championships competitor Anna Li and Iowa transfer Natalie Padilla.

About The Huskies - Washington is coached by first-year head coach Joanne Bowers, who was previously an assistant coach at Michigan. The Huskies are led by sophomore Ashley Houghting, who holds career-highs of 9.925 on vault and 9.8 on beam, and senior all-around Chelsea Bakken.

Bruins Put Injuries Behind Them - A rash of injuries thinned the Bruins in the early part of 2006, but UCLA enters 2007 with a more healthy outlook. Jordan and Tasha Schwikert are 100 percent to start this season a year after matching shoulder surgeries sidelined them in the beginning of 2006. Although Anna Li (hip) and Kristina Comforte (shoulder and ankle) underwent surgeries in the off-season, they are already back on track to begin competition. Comforte is expected to compete on vault and balance beam in the opener, and Li is expected to compete in the all-around. The prognosis is not as good for freshman Brittani McCullough, however. McCullough had surgery in early December after severing a tendon in her big toe in a car accident. She will likely redshirt the season.

Li Continues Family Tradition In Pauley - On Saturday, freshman Anna Li will get a chance to literally follow in the footsteps of her parents. Li's parents both competed at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, winning team medals in UCLA's home arena, legendary Pauley Pavilion. Anna's father, Yuejiu Li, who is now the head coach of the Chinese team that won the gold medal at the 2006 World Championships, won a team silver, and Anna's mother, Jiani Wu, won a team bronze.

2007 Season Outlook - After a frustrating 2006 season, the 2007 Bruins are out to prove that UCLA Gymnastics is back and ready to contend once again for the NCAA Championship. The fire-in-the-eyes attitude is palpable amongst this group.

'The frustration that we endured last season has served to refuel our fire and strengthen our resolve,' said head coach Valorie Kondos Field. 'Our returnees' determination, combined with the overall talent and character of our freshmen, has already made this season one of the best in our UCLA history.'

Although small in numbers, UCLA packs plenty of punch with its 11-person roster. The Bruins have an extremely talented squad that is more than capable of scoring big.

Leading the way are three returning All-Americans - 2005 NCAA all-around champion and 2000 U.S. Olympian Tasha Schwikert, 2006 NCAA vault runner-up and two-time All-American Kristina Comforte and 2005 balance beam All-American Jordan Schwikert. All three have career-highs of 9.9 or higher on all four events and career-high all-around marks of 39.5 or higher. Comforte (vault) and Tasha Schwikert (bars and floor) have also scored perfect 10s in their careers.

The Bruins will also rely heavily on returning veterans Ariana Berlin, Ashley Peckett, Michelle Selesky and Janelle Dantzscher for leadership, experience and stability. Berlin and Peckett were amongst UCLA's most consistent competitors in 2006, with Berlin hitting 50 of her 52 routines last season and Peckett hitting 59 of her last 60 routines dating back to 2005. Selesky, one of last year's co-captains, returns in the same role as a senior and brings a strong work ethic and a good example both on and off the floor. Dantzscher has the capabilities of scoring big for the Bruins. She had her best meet of the season in 2006 in one of the most imposing environments, setting or tying career-highs in the all-around (39.125) and on all four events at Georgia.

The newcomers will jump right into the mix right away. Junior transfer Natalie Padilla (University of Iowa) can contribute on all four events and holds career-highs of 9.875 on vault, 9.85 on floor and 9.825 on bars. Freshman Anna Li is a two-time USA Championships competitor and a strong all-around competitor. Freshman Ashley Jenkins is a 2003 U.S. National Team member and will be a force on at least three events. Brittani McCullough, who placed sixth in the all-around at the 2005 U.S. Championships, was on track to become a top all-arounder for the Bruins this year until her accident.

Two Meets To Be Televised On LA36 - UCLA home meets on Feb. 25 (vs. Cal, Cal State Fullerton and Denver) and Mar. 4 (vs. Georgia) will be televised on a delayed basis on Los Angeles cable station LA36. The station can be found throughout Los Angeles on Time Warner Cable and other LA-affiliated cable stations. Check your local listings for air dates and times.

Looking Ahead - The Bruins travel to Salt Lake City for a Friday, Jan. 12 meet at Utah at 7 pm MT. Three days later, UCLA will host Stanford on Monday, Jan. 15 in Pauley Pavilion at 2 pm PT. The Jan. 15 meet will be a special Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Pink bracelets will be distributed to the first 2,000 in attendance. A formal autograph session with the Bruin team will also take place after the event.

High-Level Recruiting Class To Join UCLA In 2008 - Head coach Valorie Kondos Field signed another strong recruiting class during the early signing period, inking 2006 World Championships competitor and 2004 Olympic alternate Marci Bernholtz from Unionville, Ontario, Canada (ASF Gymnastics); international elite and 2003 U.S. Championships competitor Allison Taylor from Dallas, Texas (WOGA); and three-time Level 10 National qualifier Mizuki Sato from Fair Oaks, Calif. (Technique Gymnastics).

'We are looking forward to the addition of Marci, Allison and Mizuki to an already nationally competitive squad,' said UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field. 'They will round out the depth on every event for us in the future and will certainly enable us to continue our yearly challenge for the national title.'

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