2008 UCLA Gymnastics Outlook

Jan. 1, 2008

The excitement is infectious around the UCLA Gymnastics program, as the Bruins bring to the floor their deepest team in years for the 2008 season. After a strong finish to last season, UCLA is looking to build on that success and contend once again for the NCAA Championship.

Injuries played such a huge role in 2006 and 2007, and the Bruins barely had the depth to work through and did so mainly with sheer guts and a 'Refuse to Lose' mentality. This season, the Bruins bring that same mentality but are 15 strong and relatively healthy entering the season. Strength in numbers will certainly factor in as UCLA goes through the regular season in preparation for the post-season, with line-ups being shuffled continually in order to rest key athletes and give the freshmen more experience.

'Having some key athletes such as Kristina Comforte and Brittani McCullough back training has electrified our pre-season,' said UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field. 'We're planning on using our depth to keep us healthy and be able to compete at full strength come championship season.'

Leading the way for UCLA in 2008 will be senior Tasha Schwikert, who looks to end her illustrious career with a bang. Schwikert, a 2000 U.S. Olympian, 2003 World Championship gold medalist and 2005 NCAA all-around champion, is coming off another outstanding season during which she was named the Pac-10 and West Region Gymnast of the Year, was selected as a finalist for the Honda Award and won multiple Pac-10 and Regional titles. One of Schwikert's strongest attributes as a competitor is her ability to perform in the clutch. With meets on the line, she came through time and again, clinching the Pac-10 title with a 9.95 on beam and clinching the NCAA Regional title with a 9.9 on floor. Schwikert finished the year hitting 55 straight routines without a fall, with a total of 38 scores of 9.9 or higher.

Joining Schwikert as one of UCLA's top all-around threats is her sister Jordan Schwikert, also in her last season of competition. Jordan holds a career-high all-around score of 39.5 and recorded a 2007 season-high of 39.45 in the dual meet win over Georgia. She ranked second on the Bruin squad with a 9.859 vault average and earned All-Pac-10 honors on the uneven bars and scored a near-perfect 9.975 at the Wooden Challenge. She was a second-team All-American on beam and an All-Pac-10 performer in the all-around as a freshman.

The Bruins' third senior is Natalie Padilla, who, in her first season at UCLA last year, provided much-needed depth to an injury-depleted squad. Padilla often entered the lineup as a last-minute replacement and came through with some clutch performances. She competed on uneven bars in nine of the last 10 meets of the season and saw action on each of the four events in at least two meets. She has shown big improvements and will again provide good depth for UCLA.

All three members of UCLA's junior class are coming back from off-season surgeries but are expected to again be major players for the Bruins this year. Ariana Berlin, who had been competing with a titanium rod in her leg and seeing limited training time for the past two seasons, finally had the rod removed in May and has been training well in pre-season. Berlin, the former walk-on turned 2006 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and scholarship athlete, has been a constant inspiration with her determination, work ethic and spirit, traits that serve her well on the competition floor, where she has become a top-notch all-arounder with a career-high mark of 39.425 and a 2007 season average of 39.275. Berlin is the rare gymnast who relishes the leadoff role and has even thrived, recording 9.85+ marks on every event, including a 9.9 on vault in the leadoff position and a 9.975 on uneven bars.

After sitting out most of last season with shoulder and ankle injuries, 2006 two-time All-American Kristina Comforte returns much healthier and with hopes of repeating some of the success she saw in her freshman campaign, when she placed sixth in the all-around and second on vault at the NCAA Championships and became the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 on vault that season. Comforte, who competed on balance beam in the first month of 2007, is expected to be back in all-around action this year.

Melissa Chan also had off-season ankle surgery and returns for her first full season since 2006 in the best shape of her career. Chan is a dynamo on the balance beam, where she has hit all 11 of her career routines with a high of 9.95 and seven scores of 9.85 or better. She competed on beam only last season in three post-season meets, with a high of 9.9 set at the NCAA Super Six. As a freshman, she posted an all-around high of 39.375.

Sophomore Anna Li is coming off an outstanding freshman campaign during which she competed in the all-around in every single meet, earned a fourth-place all-around finish at the NCAA Championships and received four All-America honors. Li earned marks of 9.9 or better on all four events and recorded an all-around high of 39.55. She anchored the team on uneven bars, where she averaged a team-best 9.878 and won the NCAA Southeast Regional title with a career-high tying 9.95. Li had some big clutch performances for the Bruins, clinching the dual meet win over Georgia with a career-high 9.9 on floor and scoring a 9.95 on beam in the final rotation to help UCLA claim the Pac-10 title. Li is not resting on her laurels, however, planning upgrades to her routines for the 2008 season.

Former U.S. National Team member Ashley Jenkins worked through an injury that caused her to change her routines mid-season in order to take pressure off a hyper-extended elbow. Jenkins upped her performance-level during the time she was injured and recorded five marks of 9.8 or higher on beam, with a career-best of 9.9. An injured ankle nearly kept her out of competition at the NCAA Super Six, but she battled through the pain to hit a 9.8 on her first uneven bars routine in months. With the experience gained from last year plus an upgraded vault, look for Jenkins to be a valuable all-arounder in 2008.

Brittani McCullough entered the pre-season in 2007 as one to watch but instead had to do the watching from the sidelines after severing a toe in a car accident in November. This season, the dynamic and powerful former U.S. National Team member is ready to get her collegiate career started and is expected to be one of the Bruins' top all-arounders as a redshirt freshman.

On top of their quality gymnastics, UCLA's six-member freshman class brings a fresh enthusiasm, spirit and character to the gym. A strong mix of Elite and Level 10 gymnasts, the freshmen are already valuable members of the squad and are expected to see regular action during the year.

The Bruins bring in two international competitors in Canadian National Team member Marci Bernholtz and British National Team member Shavahn Church, both of whom have competed at the World Championships. Bernholtz is a two-time Worlds competitor, a 2004 Olympic alternate and the reigning Canadian uneven bars champion. Church, who will have to redshirt the season with a knee injury, was a silver medalist on uneven bars at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and Top 20 all-around finisher at the 2005 World Championships.

Allison Taylor is a former Elite from famed gymnastics club WOGA. She competed at the 2003 U.S. Championships and earned a 16th-place all-around finish. She also recorded a Top 10 finish on uneven bars at the 2004 Voronin Cup in Moscow. Injuries have kept her out of competition and slowed her training, but when she is healthy, she will bring beautiful gymnastics to the team and make an impact on uneven bars and floor exercise.

Level 10 standouts Mizuki Sato and Niki Tom made waves at the 2007 Level 10 National Championships. Sato placed third in the all-around in the Senior D division, and Tom placed fifth in the Senior C division in her first-ever National Championships. Sato is a three-time Level 10 National qualifier and won the NorCal State uneven bars and floor exercise titles in 2007. Tom won the 2007 Region 1 beam title and the vault and floor crowns at the State Championships. Both are strong all-around competitors and should see significant action in the 2008 season.

Walk-on Talia Kushynski is a Level 10 Regional qualifier and multiple bronze medalist at the 2006 State Championships. She has been improving immensely during the pre-season and, as one of the Bruins' best dancers, has a floor routine that is sure to be a crowd favorite.

With so much all-around depth on the squad, Kondos Field is excited about the prospects for a strong post-season run.

'If our pre-season is an indication of our 2008 year to come, it's going to be a fun and exciting season for UCLA Gymnastics,' she said.