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Ask The Bruins - 2006 Gymnastics
By: UCLA Athletics
Ask The Bruins

Throughout the 2006 gymnastics season, will be conducting "Ask the Bruins" sessions with different members of the UCLA gymnastics team.

The first guests of the season were head coach Valorie Kondos Field and assistant coaches Chris Waller and Marshall Nelson.

Marc Sawyer (San Diego): Hi Coach Val! How do you go about creating a floor routine for each of your gymnasts? Do you work together on what fits them best, and if so, how do you make them all unique?
Miss Val: Hi, Marc. I work with Eric Larsen of Wolfjump music during the summer. I give him some specific ideas of what I'd like and what I'd like to stay away from. (For example, this year I asked him to get me a Santana piece, which we used for Comforte.) He usually gives me around 30 pieces of music to choose from. If I can immediately see choreographic pictures in my head, then I start thinking which of our athletes to pair with the music. Every once in a while an athlete comes to me with music she'd like. Sometimes I'll use it, and sometimes I won't. This year, Ari found and edited her own music. Once she had the rough draft, she and I tweaked it to give it a bit more of a "gymnastic" dynamic.

Bruin Fan (Los Angeles, CA): How do you maintain consistent drive and determination from your team day-in, day-out for the entire season (which can be very long physically and mentally?) How do you keep things fresh and exciting when a routine can become, a routine?
Miss Val: Good question - Chris, Marshall, and I are constantly mixing up our workouts to find new ways to challenge our athletes, keep them focused, and to constantly remind them of why they do gymnastics ... because they love it! This year's team is actually more engaged on a daily basis than a lot of other team's we've had. I really think our army of freshmen understand that they are the future of UCLA Gymnastics, and that the type of a team they help to develop this year will set the foundation for the next generation of UCLA Gymnasts.

Mark Kowal (Eagle Rock, CA.): Dear Coach Field, Are the UCLA women's gymnastics team in shape for the road to Oregon State university in this year's NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championship in our own PAC-10 turf?
Miss Val: Dearest Mark - our awesome Bruin fan! YES... we are right on track to being able to challenge for another PAC-10 and NCAA title this year.

Rachel (Davis, CA): Thank you for keeping artistry alive in women's gymnastics! I have a question about John Wooden - clearly he is an enormous source of inspiration to you and your team. Do all UCLA teams and coaches have that same bond, or is yours unique? How did it develop? Thanks!
Miss Val: Coach Wooden is a tremendous supporter for all of the teams at UCLA. Our team has as close of as relationship with him as anyone, mainly because I feel it's extremely important that our student-athletes spend as much time with him as possible. You used the correct word when you said he is an "enormous source of inspiration", Coach would never think to assert his opinion with us coaches about the decisions we make with our teams. When asked why he comes to all of our home meets, he will reply that he truly enjoys the sincere support and compassion most gymnastics teams share with each other. Even though we compete individually, he sees collegiate gymnastics as truly a team sport.

John (Lawndale): Hey Coach! First, thanks for clearing up the Coach Wooden situation against OSU. When I sat down I saw his daughter and Kenny Washington come in alone. I figured, "Oh, too bad Coach Wooden could not make it today! I guess back-to-back after the basketball game was too much." Then I saw him after the meet and couldn't figure out how I missed him. Now I know!! He beat me there! As for my question - I know the freshmen have been great, as well as Kate, but I thought Ashley Peckett has been pretty solid for the team. Can you comment on how she is doing in her role with the team? See ya 2/12!
Miss Val: Peckett just gets better and better. I am constantly amazed at how much better her bars have gotten in the past two years. She had her ankle scoped in the fall, and we had prepared ourselves that she may just have to be a bar specialist. Her surgery was such a success that she came back to vaulting quickly, and as of last week is making her way back to being able to train floor again. We've resurrected her freshman floor routine because I hadn't gotten around to choreographing her new routine before she had surgery.

Ann from Dyersburg, TN: Valorie, Why are the scores so low this season, and when do we expect to see Tasha and Jordan back in action? Also, I love Kate's new floor routine. Was her recent injury a factor in her choreography for the routine?
Miss Val: The scores are lower this year because, like the rest of the gymnastics world, college gymnastics implemented a new code of points by which our athletes are judged. The new code focuses on a few things that can quickly lower a score if the skills aren't performed extremely well. The changes are supposed to help the judges differentiate and separate the different levels of routines performed.

Jordan is doing well - she'll hopefully be in on beam and floor starting this weekend and vault in the next few weeks. She hasn't been able to start swinging bars yet. Tasha is much farther from being able to come in. Her surgery was a bit more extensive that Jordan's. We really have no idea when or if Tasha can come back this season. She is working EXTREMELY hard at her rehab and strength work.

Thanks for the compliment on Kate's floor - her injury played no part in her choreography. She does have issues with her hip flexors periodically, so we had to change her leap pass. Her tibia is fine - no pain. YEA!

Karen (Long Beach): How do you pick who competes at each meet and how does someone break into the line-up?
Miss Val: Normally I like to give everyone on our roster a few opportunities to compete during the season. Up until this weekend (with Jordan hopefully coming in), we haven't had much of a choice about our line-up. Every day in training we discuss individually with each of them what they need to do to make their routines as perfect as possible. The athletes that can make the most improvement, give away the least amount in deductions, and show that they LOVE to compete will be competing for us come Championship season.

Lila (San Diego): Marshall, I saw you in the crystal cathedral production and i thought it was fantastic. Do you take anything away from those productions and implement them into UCLA gymnastics? Different movements, etc?
Marshall: Hi Lila! Thanks for your question. Gymnastics gives you strength and discipline and hones your attention to detail. What I love about performing is the creative freedom and expression it not only promotes but requires! The combination of the two is what we try to achieve at the collegiate level - perfect gymnastics and a passionate performance. So what I try to bring to the gym (along with Val and Chris) is that ability to think outside the box when it comes to movement and expression. The other great thing about a production such as Creation is the amazing and diverse group of people that come together. The artistic energy that is created when you have a room full of musicians, dancers, actors, and acrobats ... it's tremendously inspiring, and if you're open to it, can uncover and cultivate new dimensions of your ability that maybe you didn't even realize you had in you. That's the energy and the concept I hope to bring to the athletes on our team; I would love for them to see themselves as performance artists who can do some rockin' gymnastics!!!

Betsy (Boston): Hi Miss Val, Congratulations on the start of another awesome year. At the end of last year's season, I was thrilled to witness what I thought was one of the most inspiring college performances when at the national individual championships, Kristin Maloney upgraded her vault and floor routine to include elements she hadn't competed in years. She said, basically, she did it "just for fun." It got me to wondering, do you think college gymnastics is losing a bit of that "go for broke" spirit because the gymnasts have to work so hard to avoid even flinches, let alone bobbles or falls?
Miss Val: Yes, I believe college is losing a bit of the "go for broke" spirit - especially on vault. However, there is somewhat of a misconception that college gymnastics is "easy". It is NOT - even for the elite athletes. Competing in 13-17 competitions in 4 months is a huge challenge physically, mentally, and emotionally. Last year at mid-season, Tasha told me that she had no idea competing in college was going to be so tough. As she said, "You know me, Miss Val, I LOVE to perform. I thought college gymnastics was going to be a breeze." She had no idea how tough it was overall to compete almost every weekend for four months. Every elite athlete we've had that has competed for us has said the same thing during her senior year ...that competing in college developed her mental game more than she ever could have imagined. Cool, huh?

Karen (T-town, Alabama): Do you know when the full twisting yurchenko will no longer be valued out of a 10.0? I noticed that a number of the top gymnasts around the country are switching to other vaults (Postell,Kupets,Kupets,Tolnay, Humphrey)
Miss Val: I don't know the answer to that, but I think it's time.

Dave (Montvale,NJ): Does Kristina Comforte have any plans on competing a double twisting yurchenko did, like Mohini did in 2001? Kristina always did it so well in club- it could definitely bring in a good score.
Miss Val: Kristina has a ton of skills in her gymnastics repertoire. Right now she's training and competing on a bad ankle.(She hurt it pretty badly at USA's this past summer.) She's scheduled for surgery right after season. If all goes well, I can imagine she'll be competing a lot of different skills next season.

Dave (Ithaca): Janelle and Jalynne seem to improving each week- their landings and skills are better, their posture is better on beam and floor when they are dancing and presenting- where do you see them by the end of the season? What do you forsee their future to be at UCLA?
Miss Val: The possibilities with Janelle and Jalynne are endless right now. They both keep improving so much each week. Having not competed last year, they were a bit rusty getting back into competition mode. Plus, as they've mentioned, it's all still a bit overwhelming at times; they waited 6 years to compete as UCLA Bruins.

Nelson Lee ( San Marino): Every year we alumni have a very high expectation from you and the team, how do you handle such unreasonable pressure?
Miss Val: An interesting choice of words, "unreasonable" pressure ... All teams that are in any sort of spotlight will have their share of Monday morning quarterbacks - after all, that's part of the fun of being a fan. I feel our fans should expect the very best from our athletes and coaching staff. To expect excellence every season from us is not "unreasonable". To be upset when we don't perform well means you're passionate about our team; it would be an insult to us if you weren't upset. Considering the talent we recruit every year, we should always vie for another National Championship title.

The only time I feel it becomes "unreasonable" is when thoughts or comments are made from a point of ignorance. For example, I had someone tell me he was disappointed in our team because Kate isn't scoring as well this season, and we haven't scored any 10.0's. This same person didn't know that collegiate gymnastics implemented a new code of points and that scoring has been much lower around the country.

Personally, I keep my focus on our goals for the season and my daily work, which includes all aspects of our program. I judge our success by the small individual challenges and victories that we have on a daily basis. I think one of the most exciting things for our fans this season is to see what we've able to do without Tasha, the reigning all-around champion, and Jordan, one of our rocks. If we can stay healthy and keep making improvements, I feel we're just as good as anyone in the country this year.

Julie (Atlanta,GA): Tasha's injury has allowed a lot of the freshmen to get a great deal of experience. This should help the team a great deal. How is Tasha doing as she rehabs her injury? She stated in an interview that she took a break from training this past summer- will she have enough time and repititons to be ready and 100% for the post season? Tasha is that 10.0 performer that will really make the difference when the pressure is on for an NCAA title. By the post season Comforte,Chan,and Richardson will be a tight trio- adding Tasha to the lineup can really make the difference in being competitive with Georgia.
Miss Val: Wow - well said. I should hire you to write our Between the Bars updates. (See the answer above about Tasha's rehab and return to competition.) Tasha would obviously contribute a lot if she could come back this season. However ... we've still got a great team. It's important that our athletes understand that no one person can win a team championship. We need to continue to clean up our routines and continue to encourage our athletes to believe that they are "all that". Each week I'm starting to see more and more of that certain "posture" that comes from knowing we've got the goods and we can bring it on whenever, wherever. With or without Tasha, we're training to compete for another National Championship.

Val Rust, UCLA Faculty: Here is my annual question: When do you practice, and are we welcome to drop by?
Miss Val: Hi Prof. Rust. We train from 8:00am to noon most weekdays, although during season we often give them a day off during the week. And, yes - we have an open door policy to watch training as long as you let me know ahead of time. Thanks for your continued support of our program!

Ryan (NYC): With such a large freshmen class this year (7) and a substantial incoming class next season- how do you plan on balancing out the team in years to come?
Miss Val: Good question. I don't look at class size as much as I look at each event and where we are deficient. Ideally, we'd like to bring in 3 scholarship athletes a year. Some years there are more than 3 recruits out there who I think are a good match with our team, and other years there aren't. I'd rather sit on a scholarship and award someone for one year who's already on our team than bring someone in on scholarship that might not be a good fit. Sorry this answer isn't more clear. Recruiting can be really complex. When you look at the years we won our NCAA Championships, three of those championships came from teams that had two very large classes - the 2003 Fab Five and 2004 senior classes.

Chelsea (Costa Mesa): This is for Miss Val- Do any of the gymnasts ever help pick out their own floor music or choreograph their floor/beam routines? I love how each routine shows the personality and strengths of each gymnast. Thanks! :)
Miss Val: Mostly, I pick the music and I choreograph their routines. Ariana picked out her music this year, I helped her tweak it. I'm really blessed in our gym to have some great dancers to help out with cleaning beam and floor routines.

Brother (Woodland Hills): Are 4 team meets easier or harder for the gymnasts, or are they about the same? Is it a disadvantage to not have more 4 team meets in your schedule in preparation for the Pac 10's, regionals and nationals? Just something I never thought of before. Bro
Miss Val: I don't think the athletes care if there are two teams or four teams. When meets have 5 or more teams, and they have to implement byes, that's when the athletes have different opinions. Pac-10's is the hardest meet because there are three Byes. If they had their choice, most athletes would probably want to keep competing event to event without byes. The great competitors really don't care.

Andrew Long Beach, NY: Is Lori Winn now competing for the University of Oklahoma?
Miss Val: Yes, Lori is competing for Oklahoma. She is doing really well. She still keeps in contact and has remained friends with a lot of our team.

Ashley (Colorado Springs,CO): Can you update us on what the last few senior classes are now up to? (2003-2005)
Miss Val: Onnie Willis Rogers is enrolled in the masters program in child and developmental psychology at NYU. She also works as a literacy instructor for second graders at an inner-city school in the South Bronx.
Carly Raab is working on her Ph.D in sports psychology at the Univ. of North Texas.
Maloney and Yvonne Tousek are coaching for Chris at his new gym, Waller's GymJam Academy, and are both joining Cirque du Soleil this summer.
Jeanette Antolin is in Texas helping her sister and brother-in-law with their children and working in the fashion industry.
Heidi Moneymaker is one of the top stunt women in Hollywood.
Mohini is coming back to finish the few classes she has left at UCLA.
Kiralee Hayashi is doing brain imaging research at the UCLA med-center. She is also acting and doing a ton of print ad work.
Doni Thompson is the assistant coach at San Jose State.
Kristin Parker is coaching at Byers in Sacramento and working with adult handicapped students.
Malia Jones is continuing to pursue her performing career. She was the hit of our SeaWorld day show last summer.
Trishna Patel just got back from an intership in Washington D.C. with "Friends of the Global fight" and is pursuing work in politics and/or the media.
Jamie Williams is an assistant to a thoracic surgeon at UCLA and applying to PA school.
Christie Erickson is studying environmental law in D.C.
Jamie Dantzscher is all over the place, performing, selling real estate, looking at applying to graduate school in psychology, and has joined her parents bowling league every Thursday evening. She's actually an awesome bowler and fierce card player.

Rhonda (Woodland Hills): Miss Val - It's always great to see Coach at the home meets. I was really excited to see the next home meet is the John Wooden Challenge. I think that's great, especially since it's honoring academic and athletic excellence. How did that come about? Thank you and the entire team for keeping up Coach's and UCLA's traditions of academic and athletic excellence! Go Bruins!
Miss Val: Isn't he great?! Last summer I kept thinking, "Coach Wooden has meant so much to our team. I want to start a tradition linking him with UCLA Gymnastics for all time." Knowing how much Coach respects our student-athletes' academic as well as athletic success, I asked him if he would honor us by allowing us to use his name as the title for one of our meets and honor both teams' academic achievements at our athletic event. His response, "Of course you can. I'd be honored."

Carolyn Feyling (Redding): As a coach and athlete, I've had the chance to work and be taught under some amazing coaches (including C.W.). I've taken pieces of what I have learned from them and applied it towards my classes. I've recently moved away from a gym I loved because of their work ethics, and now work at a local small town gym. I love the children I coach but the owner of the gym wants me to completly change my work ethic to just a free play ethic. I disagree so much so and recently we have been butting heads about this. It's to the point that I want to leave, but now faced with no other gym that is worth working for. I can't make the 1 1/2 hour commute the other gym I would consider working for. I just looking for some advice and some guidence.
Miss Val: With regard to the "free play ethic" - Two of the many great lessons gymnasts learn from their sport at a young age are "focus and discipline". I believe that all young people understand that healthy discipline is a show of respect. If I didn't respect our student-athletes as much as I do, I wouldn't set such high standards for them to attain each year. I also believe that children love a healthy challenge; it stimulates growth in so many different areas. Maybe your boss would support offering a class of "free play time" for those that just want to come in and play, and another class entitled "Having Fun at Working Hard." On another note, life is about surrounding yourself with great people to learn and share life lessons with, and then being able to, in turn, share those with others. No job is perfect, no boss is perfect. If you can turn your daily experiences at that gym into positive growth, then it can become a win/win situation. If not, life is too short to not feel passionate or fulfilled by your work.

Michael (Palisades Park): How is Tasha Schwikert? Will she be coming back this season? Is she currently training? Will her routines be the same again or will she upgrade some routines? Will she be trying elite again?
Miss Val: Tasha is working extremely hard although she isn't close to coming back any time soon. The routines she was working on before she had her shoulder scoped were basically the same, with a few different skills thrown in. As far as trying elite, at this point, a lot of it depends on what her shoulder feels like once she's healed. She's also getting involved in sports commentary work. Did you happen to catch her commentary of Worlds? She was great!

John (Sandy): What is your approach to recruiting? Do you divide it up among the three of you and how do you decide who recruits who and who you want to recruit? Also, with all that each of you have going on outside of UCLA (Chris's gym, Val's involvement at SeaWorld, and Marshall's involvment in shows), what do you do in order to stay up on the recruiting as far as making visits and watching the prospects? It has to be pretty overwhelming! Finally, what are the top things that you use as a recruiting tool? I assume the Hollywood atmosphere is a big draw for most recruits, but what other things would you say are the keys to your success when it comes to selling your program (ie facilities, academics, support, etc.)? Thanks and good luck!
Miss Val: We three coaches divide up recruiting with respect to evaluations and correspondence. I like to make all of the home visits. I feel that I'm the head coach, I'm the one the recruit and family should be most concerned with getting to know, and ultimately it's my decision to whom we offer what to. When Chris is available, I like to take him with me. As you can imagine, he's a great recruiter for UCLA (Recruiting is really not that overwhelming. It's all just part of the job. Remember, I am married to an ex-football coach. Now THEY have a overwhelming number of recruits to keep track of and visit.).

With regard to recruiting tools: I don't think Hollywood is as much of a big draw as the all-around excellence of UCLA Athletics and Academics. You combine our history and tradition in those two areas with the weather, surrounding area, and opportunities here ... it's an awesome opportunity to be a UCLA collegiate student-athlete.

Jason Georgiou (Los Angeles): I used to train w/ Ariana Berlin at South Coast Gymnastics (back in 1998) in Santa Ana and I am so impressed with how well she's doing in college competition; she is a very steady competitor, especially considering she didn't compete for 6 years. And the freshman class as a whole is very talented. I have season tickets and I'm very excited to watch this team grow and continue to improve. By the time Jordan & Tasha are both back, this is really going to be a GREAT team. How are you going to be able to pick your lineups on each event when you have so many talented girls to pick from??
Miss Val: It would be nice to have that problem right now. Yes, if we had Jordan and Tasha we would be alternating our competition line-up A LOT to get our athletes as much competitive experience as possible - you never know when they'll be needed to compete on the national championship floor.

Keys (Boston): When you look back at your former gymnasts, who are are some that you would consider to be the best role models? I know you believe that integrity and success in all facets of life are important. Who has gone above and beyond in those respects?
Miss Val: In fairness to our alumnae, I can think of many that I could mention. Some came in with an understanding of integrity in all facets of life, and others grew to understand and implement this ideal as they matured. As you might imagine, it's those who struggled the most with our philosophy - and eventually came to "get it and live it" - that I admire and respect as much as those who came in with impeccable character.

Daniel from Fullerton CA.: Valorie first off thanks for all your hard work. Along with teaching, raising money, working to improve crowd support, there still is recruiting. In the last two years which two athletes have been your most successful recruits and what two did you want but lost to other schools? Also do you feel Chellsie Memmel turning pro was her best choice?
Miss Val: Everyone we bring into our program fulfills a purpose. It's not all about scoring big. For example, the enthusiasm and love for gymnastics that Ariana has brought to our team this year is immeasurable. Each of our athletes has something like that, that helps to make our team great. In recruiting, I like to think that athletes end up at the schools that they are meant to attend. Maybe it's just me wanting to say "que sera sera". Whenever I think "Oh - I wish we could have gotten HER", then I think of who we couldn't have brought in because of scholarship numbers if we had gotten HER, and it all gets very convoluted. Besides, recruiting is often a roll of the dice. I was leery about bringing in Yvonne Tousek because she had 13 chips in her ankles ... she worked out nicely. WHO KNEW that Ari would be competing AT ALL for us this year? Not many coaches out there even took a chance on Mohini. How sad that LVE had to retire so early. And so on and so on.

Here's a question - Who would be on your dream team from all of the NCAA gymnasts in the past, say, 5 years?

With regard to Chellsie - I certainly feel that participating in collegiate athletics is an amazing opportunity and experience. It is filled with experiences that you don't find elsewhere in life - especially for gymnasts, because it's really the first time they are truly a part of a "team". With that said, Chellsie is extremely bright and isn't one to make snap decisions. I know she put a lot of thought into her decision and was extremely appreciative throughout her entire recruiting process. I wish there was a more prosperous professional career that our athletes could participate in with a much bigger window of opportunity that allowed them to enjoy both the collegiate and professional experience.

Carlene (Canada): Hello, I am a Canadian gymnast that is interested in what type of things (i.e. skills, grades, levels and so on) you are looking for when considering gymnasts for scholarships?
Miss Val: Hi, Carlene. Please send Marshall an email ( with your information, and he can help answer your questions.

Northfield: What is the name of Kate Richardson's 2004 music that she used on Athens?
Miss Val: Honestly, I don't know what the name of the song is. This is probably one of the most popular questions I get every year. When I get music submitted to me, they don't come with the original titles, so, unfortunately, I don't have an answer for you.

Sabina (Clifton Park): What are Lindsey Vanden Eykel's responsibilites as an assistant coach? Also, I know it must be difficult to be forced into retirement because of injury, how has she dealt with that?
Chris Waller: Lindsey is a technician beyond her years, with a hawks-eye for detail. She drills the team towards perfection on bars. While on beam, she confidently does choreography and puts the finishing touches on routines. She is not however, just a technical coach. Lindsey jumps in with emotional support and inspiration easily, offering a bridge between the staff and the team.

Lindsey would love to be able to still compete, or "perform", as she might describe it. Yet, she never comes into practice or competition feeling sorry for herself. She consistently shows up enthusiastic, ready to have fun and working hard. She has done an exemplary job of remaining a vital part of the team. Essentially, Lindsey has dealt with early retirement by focusing her energy and concern on her teammates individually and the team as a whole.

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