Dec. 18, 2003
Winners of four NCAA Championships, including three of the last four, UCLA looks poised to add to its 21st century dynasty in 2004. As host of the NCAA Championships on Apr. 15-17, the Bruins are the early favorite to repeat as national champions, having earned pre-season No. 1 honors for the fourth consecutive year. No doubt that UCLA's talent-laden roster led to the No. 1 ranking, as the Bruin athletes have collectively won seven NCAA individual championships, earned 27 All-America honors and made 13 World Championships and five Olympic appearances. With five returning All-Americans leading the way and with the addition of dynamic freshmen talent, the defending NCAA champions are ready to "Drive for Five."
Senior leadership from Jeanette Antolin, Jamie Dantzscher, Kristen Maloney and Yvonne Tousek will be an important component of the Bruin squad. This group has had more experience at the international level than any class in NCAA history, and they have continued their success at the collegiate level, winning two NCAA Championships in their three years. Classmates Christy Erickson, Trishna Patel and Jamie Williams will bring added depth and experience to the squad.
The Bruins undoubtedly will miss the all-around contribution of 2002 NCAA champion Dantzscher, who is limited to uneven bars only due to ankle problems. The 13-time All-American will be most missed on the floor exercise, where she has scored 17 perfect 10s in her career. However, Dantzscher, the NCAA bars co-champion, has scored perfect 10s on bars six times in her career and averaged a national-best 9.954 a year ago.
"Unfortunately for everyone in the gymnastics community, Jamie Dantzscher has no choice right now but to be a bars specialist," said UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field. "However, it's a privilege to have her on even just one event because we can always count on her and her amazing gymnastics. She is world-class athlete on this event."
With Dantzscher out of the lineup on vault, beam and floor, look for Antolin to step up in her spot as the dynamic leader on the competition floor. Last year's Team MVP and the 2003 West Region Gymnast of the Year will be looked upon to anchor the Bruins on vault and floor. Antolin is certainly ready for prime time, having won the Pac-10 title on vault last year and earning first-team All-America honors on both vault and bars. She competed in the all-around 12 times and averaged 39.406 last season.
"Jeanette obviously brings a tremendous amount of talent to our team, but it is her leadership and unwavering fierce competitiveness that is her tour de force," said Kondos Field.
One of the most exciting developments in the pre-season was the return of Maloney to competition form. The two-time U.S. all-around champion has not competed the last two seasons due to a leg injury and focusing her attention solely on conditioning. Maloney is set to come back in 2004 looking and feeling better than ever. She had an impressive freshman season in 2001, earning first-team All-America honors on the balance beam and becoming the first UCLA gymnast ever to score a perfect 10 on the balance beam. Her gutsy three-event performance on a badly-injured leg at the 2001 NCAA Championships was critical in the Bruins winning the national title that year.
"I cannot wait to see Kristen Maloney step back onto the competition floor. It will be such an amazing moment to see her come back from such tough injuries after all this time," said Kondos Field.
Tousek has been a rock for the Bruins in her three seasons, particularly on bars and beam. The 2001 NCAA bars champion and two-time Canadian Olympian scored her first-ever perfect 10 on bars a year ago and has hit 28 of her last 29 beam routines. Tousek, who has earned seven All-America honors in her career, will concentrate on bars, beam and floor this season.
"Yvonne is stronger than she's been in three years," Kondos Field stated. "In resting her Achilles tendon, she has concentrated on strengthening her legs. Consequently, her tumbling is much easier for her."
UCLA's junior class of Christie Tedmon and Kisha Auld bring much-needed depth to the Bruin squad. Tedmon is rock-solid on all four events, with highs of 9.9 on beam and 9.85 on floor. Auld, a powerful vaulter, has been out of gymnastics for five years but earned a walk-on spot on the team this season.
Sophomores Kate Richardson and Holly Murdock have been on fire in the pre-season. Richardson is training not only for the 2004 collegiate season but for the 2004 Olympic Games. She had a tremendous rookie campaign, winning NCAA titles on the uneven bars and balance beam, placing third in the all-around and capturing the Pac-10 all-around and floor titles. The Pac-10 Freshman of the Year competed a team-high 61 routines last year and competed in the all-around 15 out of 16 times.
"I jokingly say that Kate is the perfect child, but it really is true," said Kondos Field. "Kate enjoys a youthfulness and enthusiasm with everything she does while competing great gymnastics and getting great grades."
After limited action in 2003 due to a leg injury, Murdock is close to being back in the competitive shape that saw her place an all-time British-best 14th in the all-around at the 2001 World Championships.
"All of Holly's teammates are so excited for her now that her gymnastics is 'back.' She will be a great addition this year, especially on bars, beam and floor."
Fellow sophomore Jennifer Sutton returns after sitting out last season due to shoulder surgery.
A large freshman class of six adds to the mix enthusiasm and dynamic personalities, as well as an abundance of talent and scrappy tenaciousness on the competition floor. The freshmen have amongst them a two-time World Championships competitor in Ashley Peckett, a former U.S. National Team member in Lori Winn, a senior international elite in Aimee Walker, a nine-time Level 10 State champion in Courtney Walker and Level 10 National qualifiers Michelle Selesky and Ashley Martin.