Ask the Bruins - Women's Gymnastics
 Ariana Berlin
UCLA coaches and athletes will be on hand throughout the year to answer your questions in our "Ask the Bruins" Q&A sessions. Fans were able to ask a question to ANY MEMBER of the women's gymnastics team, including head coach Valorie Kondos Field.

Joshua Todd (Vancouver): Kate, you've had such an amazing career at UCLA. What are your plans after graduation?
Kate Richardson: Thank you! I have another year of school left to go till I graduate, and then I'm hoping to go to grad school up in Vancouver. I want to do physiotherapy at UBC, ideally. So if that works out, then I'll go back home after next year.

Betsy (Boston): Miss Val, Coaches and All Bruins Team Members, I usually have lots of questions for you, but this time I just want to say congratulations on the way you handled a really challenging season. I watched regionals on-line, and I was so impressed with the team standing up and cheering for Arkansas when it was announced they came in second. I was as proud to be a Bruin fan then as when you won Nationals. I can't wait to see the team next year, and I'm so glad that Kate qualified to Nationals, so her college career isn't over quite yet. My friends and I will be there, cheering her and Kristina and Tasha on! Best of luck to all in the off-season, Betsy
Miss Val: Betsy from Boston - thank you for such kind words. This season has been tough. I've learned a lot this season from our athletes about how resilient young adults really can be. Not once, through their frustration and disappointment, did they hang their heads in defeat or self-pity. When our team stood up for Arkansas during the awards ceremony, I heard Coach Wooden saying, "The strength of a person's character is in direct proportion to how they are able to deal with good fortune and misfortune." I am looking forward to working through next year with this team of seasoned veterans and the amazing talent and character we have coming in as freshmen.

Melissia, Seoul, South Korea: Tasha, You are such a Great Gymnast and Role Model, do you think you will compete at Nationals or the Olympics in the future. I was so excited when you opted to continue your gymnastics at UCLA instead of turning pro, what would be your advice for a gymnast if they were considering college or turning pro? Good Luck at Nationals!!
Tasha Schwikert: Thanks, Melissa, I truly appreciate it. As of now, I am very concentrated on my studies and the team aspect of gymnastics at UCLA, so I have no plans of National or Olympic competition, though those were wonderful years of my life. After what happened at regionals this past weekend, I am extremely fired up to get UCLA Gymnastics back on top.

Throughout my entire gymnastics career, as much as gymnastics was a huge priority in my life, so was my education. With the way my parents raised me, and as well as my own educational desires, going to college was a great gift to receive. To go to college and have the opportunity to further my education is something I cherish a lot, and I am grateful that I received an athletic scholarship to one of the top universities in the world.

My advice to a gymnast that has the dilemma of either going to college or going professional would be to weigh the pros and cons of each, as well as deciding what is more important to you in life. Everyone has different passions in life. Are you interested in going through many years of school and experiencing different things, which could jump-start you into a different career/profession in your life, or are you passionate about competing and traveling to perform on the world stage? These are questions you would need to ask yourself. If there is one thing I can say about being a student-athlete at UCLA ... It's a fun, exciting, and rewarding university, and competing with a team, something greater than yourself, is an experience that CANNOT be duplicated anywhere else!

David (Chula Vista): Hey Ariana --- Congratulations on a great freshman season! I was reading about everything you went through and wanted to know how you were able to maintain such a high skill level if you basically gave up gymnastics all throughout high school. Did everything just come back to you or how did you train to get back in such great shape? Also, looking ahead to next year, are you planning on adding more difficulty in your routines?
Ariana Berlin: It wasn't too difficult for me to come back because even though I took so much time off, I am a huge daredevil, so the thrill of learning my skills back just made it all the more fun! A lot of skills were easy to get back just because of pure muscle memory. Others, such as tumbling passes (because of my leg), were harder to get back. We did a lot of strengthening in my leg, which helped and lessened the pain in my leg, allowing me to train and tumble more often. As I said, I am a huge daredevil, and I have actually already planned out the skills I want to learn for the following year. So yes, the plan is to add a lot more difficulty.

John (Lawndale): Ok, this is for the freshmen. Enough about competitions and academics. How are you enjoying LIFE at a big time university such as UCLA where there is so much going on and so many people from such diverse backgrounds crossing your paths everyday???
Kristina Comforte: Wow. I can't even explain how much I love it here!!! I can't even remember the last time I was so incredibly happy. I have met so many new people here and developed relationships that I know are going to last throughout my lifetime. UCLA is everything I expected and more. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity of going to such a great school and being part of the greatest team.

Linda ( New York): For Michelle Selesky: Though you have not competed as much as the other gymnasts on the team, what has your experience been like on the UCLA gym team? What role do you think you have played in contributing to its continued success? Thanks!
Michelle Selesky: My three years here so far have been a great learning experience for me. Being part of such a prestigious team has taught me not only gymnastics-wise but also in all areas of life as well. I'd like to think that my role has been one of leadership and enthusiasm towards the sport and the team. I was very honored to be voted co-team captain this year, and I look forward to guiding the team through the rest of my career here. Thanks!

Melissa (Santa Barbara): My question is for Jalynne and Janelle - Do you two feed off of each other when you compete? Does the energy from one transfer to the other? Or, do you react to each other's successes or struggles in the same way that you would any other teammate? Looking forward to seeing more of you in the coming years!
Dantzscher Twins: It is a wonderful opportunity to have my sister (best friend), because obviously we have always been really close. But what we thrive off of in work-out and in competition is the entire team's energy. Thank you very much, this has been a great opportunity for the two of us, and we look forward to next season as well.

Nelson (San Marino): Coach Val, I just like to say that you have done a great job with our women's gymnastics program. It is any coach's dream to win just one national championship, and you did more than that. I, like many Bruins fans, want you to stay here forever. Since you have accomplished so much, what motivate you to another higher level?
Miss Val: When you ask what motivates me to keep working to achieve a higher level ... well, not making it to the National Championships this year is quite motivating! Besides that, I truly enjoy working with our athletes and getting new people in every year. I don't believe in having a "formula" by which to coach. I enjoy trying to figure out how to motivate each new individual on our team. Plus, I love the fact that I still learn so much with every season. I love the challenge of trying new things in coaching and seeing if they work or not.

Megan: Miss Val, I was wondering if some of your girls are traveling up to Corvallis to cheer on Kate, Kristina, and Tasha, or does the school not cover travel costs for the other girls?
Miss Val: YES YES YES... Ariana, Michelle, Melissa, and Jordan are all coming up to Corvallis. Plus, about 30 more Bruin Faithful will be there. No - we can't pay for their travel or expenses. They said it didn't matter; they were making the trip anyway. It will be nice to have them there and for Ari to see an NCAA Championship in person. Melissa got to witness our '04 victory in Pauley first-hand.

Gary Yu (Burnaby): Kate Richardson, would you ever consider doing elite gymnastics again? Canada could benefit from all your experience.
Kate Richardson: I did, actually, just because I love training and competing so much. I couldn't really fathom giving it up. But I realize that my love for the sport is always going to be there, and there's a time when your body tells you to move on. So I'm ready to be done, but I'm glad I considered the option so that I wouldn't be wondering if I could have done it or not later on.

Brett (Torrance,CA): This question for for Ms. Berlin, I am curious if you have upgraded or down graded your routines since your club gymnastics a couple of years ago? and which is you favorite event and why?
Ariana Berlin: I have downgraded mostly. I do a lot of the same skills but less of the bonus connections that were needed in club to have a higher start value. I love floor, as you can imagine. I love to perform, and the floor exercise allows me to express my other passion, hip-hop/ break dancing.

melissa (philadelphia): I'm an alumn who no longer lives in southern California but still enjoys following you guys and college gymnastics, and I have several rather different questions: -- what happened to courtney walker & michelle selesky? -- i love your floor choreography (the whole team), and it seems so superior to the cheerleading-type stuff seen by most of the other top teams. the judging (and often the media commentators when i get to see meets on cable) never reflect this. is there something i'm missing? -- does college gymnastics have any plans to adopt the new scoring system? thank you for answering these questions and good luck in the rest of the championship season!!!
Miss Val: Courtney has been dealing with quite a few nagging injuries for quite some time. This past season, she and I came to the realization that she wasn't going to be able to get her gymnastics back to where she wanted to be, so we mutually decided that she would hang up her grips and injury-retire after this season. She is still a close part of our team, is extremely helpful in the gym, and she's amazing on the computer, so I've asked her to do some projects for me in the office, and she's doing tremendously well in school.

Michelle has been battling sprained ankles all season. When one got better, she'd take a short landing and injure the other. She's been feeling pretty good these past few weeks. Michelle has been a great role model and team captain for our athletes this season.

About my choreography - thank you. I disagree with your observation, however. I think commentators quite often comment on my work. As for the judges, I've been told by quite a few that they appreciate the comprehensive approach I give to our routines, but I don't know if it does, or can, reflect in their score.

No ... college gymnastics does not have any plans to adopt the new scoring system. YEAH!

Jason (Los Angeles): Jalynne & Janelle: Do you guys feel like you had high expectations put on you since you are Jamie's sisters? If so, has this affected you at all in competition this season? Ariana: What has been the key to you competing so strongly all season, especially after not competing for 5 years?
Dantzscher Twins: No, we are each individuals, and our decision not to train elite was completely a decision we made on our own. When we are out on the floor competing, we are not thinking about Jamie, although we are very happy about her success. Our main focus is the team, and we hope we can win a national championship with them.
Ariana Berlin: I try to train as consistently as possible, always putting my mind-set into that of a competition mind-set.

Megan (Palo Alto): Miss Val, Why don't fans throw things at gymnasts anymore? I remember back in the day when gymnastics was like figure skating and fans would throw stuffed animals and flowers to gymnasts after they performed. Is it an NCAA violation or something to give gymnasts gifts? Would I get in trouble if I threw stuffed animals to your girls as a sign of appreciation? I know this sounds like a silly question, but I have always wondered. Thanks, Megan
Miss Val: Ha ha ... when I read the first line I thought, "How rude. This person wants to throw bottles or something at our athletes." O.K., I get it. I actually don't remember things being thrown at our athletes like they do in skating. It's not a violation, but I can imagine that the event staff would put a stop to it quickly. I think it's a nice idea ... we should talk this over more.

Sue, Northridge, CA: Michelle, How has your experience been as the team co-captain and as a walk-on athlete at UCLA?
Michelle Selesky: Leading the team this year has been both educational and exciting. With such a large group of underclassmen, I've learned a lot about the art of being of a leader. In terms of being a walk-on athlete, my experience has been great, yet not any different than that of a scholarship athlete. Every athlete on our team is extremely valuable. I'm proud and honored to have earned a scholarship this year, however.

Chelsea/Costa Mesa: To any team member :)...What is the greatest insight you have learned about life during this year's training/competing season? I admire all of your determination, hard work, and perseverence...You are role models for us all!
Kristina Comforte: What I learned most about this season is to never give up. We went through many rough times this season, and pushing through in those tough times and never giving up really made me much stronger mentally than I ever have been.

Kali, Los Angeles: What did it feel like to not make it to Nationals this year?
Miss Val: Numb. Shocked. Frustrated. Humbled. Upset. Exhausted. Driven. We college coaches have strived for years to tweak our rules to allow a Cinderella team to beat a powerhouse on any given night that the powerhouse opens the door. The fact that UCLA and Stanford aren't going to the National Championships is actually good for the sport in the sense that it gives hope to all other programs that they can break through on any given year. It also tells athletic directors that more and more teams are becoming competitive now, so maybe other schools will consider adding Women's Gymnastics to their athletic rosters.

While I say it's great for collegiate gymnastics as a whole, I don't like that we're the ones that opened the door. I keep hearing Coach Wooden chuckle at me and say, "Isn't it funny how we feel that blessings are our just due and disappointments should only happen to other people." Exactly!

sartre, Los Angeles: Ariana, I think you're incredible. Are you first gymnast to use hip-hop movements in a floor routine? I've never seen that before. Go Bruins!
Ariana Berlin: I doubt that I am the first person EVER to use hip-hop in a floor routine. Maybe the first to breakdance in a routine.

Sasha (Beverly Hills): Aside from injuries, what do you think accounted for the team's inconsistencies this year? I love watching the girls perform, but it seems that the team never quite got their mental game going this season.
Miss Val: You're absolutely right. From what I've experienced with our past teams, two things stood out to me. One, our freshmen had a lot of excitement at the beginning of the season competing for the first time as Bruins. With only Kate competing, and then Peckett and Jordan on a few events, they didn't have enough veterans to follow, and their "excitement" quickly turned to "nerves". I kept feeling pockets of nervous energy on the competition floor instead of a meld of confidence. I remember Kristina saying, as she just repeated this last weekend, that competing in college is far more stressful than competing elite because of the whole team concept. (Those were Jamie Dantzscher's exact words after competing at her first NCAA's coming off the Olympic team.) Add to that wearing four letters on your leotard that represents a tradition of champions, and it's rather overwhelming.

Secondly, instead of them getting into a rhythm and feeling more confident as the season went on, which is what I'm used to happening, because we had to keep switching our line-up, there was always a new struggle or challenge to overcome. One reason we weren't able to "settle" into a rhythm was because at any given meet, half of our competitors hadn't been able to put in the reps in the gym, so we didn't know if they would hit, and they hadn't had enough competitions under their belts throughout the season to find their rhythm. I also know that being in great shape certainly helps your gymnastics, but NOTHING can take the place of doing gymnastics skills. Tasha was a pure example of that. During her shoulder rehab, I'd see her on the track charging up one length of stadium stairs hopping on one leg, then the next set on the other, frog-jumping the next stadium stairs, etc. She said her body felt great, strong, and fast. But when she started tumbling again, shin and Achilles pain set in quickly. Gymnastics is a tough sport, and no other sport or physical activity can duplicate it.

I don't like going into a meet hoping that LUCK will be on our side - and that's what I was hoping for quite a bit this year. You'd be correct to assume that we will pay extra special attention so that we won't have to rely on Luck next season.

Sarah (Los Angeles): Kate, Kristina & Tasha - Congrats on making it to the championships! I wish all of you the best of luck. What do you think are going to be the biggest challenges of competing as individuals instead of with your team. How will you overcome it? Will your international/elite experience help you prepare?
Kristina Comforte: Thank you!!! I'm really excited to still have the opportunity to compete at nationals. Of course it is going to be much more difficult without all of our teammates there, but a few of them will be coming, so that will make it much better. I just need to stay in a strong mental mindset. I think I have learned much more in my freshman year in terms of "mental buffness" than I did in elite. I will just do the same things to prepare as I have for any other meet.
Kate Richardson: Thank you, Sarah! It will be a challenge not having my teammates there in the corral while I'm competing because you start to depend on that since it's been like that the last three years. Our international experience will definitely help because essentially it's what we would do in elite meets - compete by ourselves. But the coaches will be there, Kristina and Tasha are there, and some of the girls are coming too, so I definitely won't be alone. I'm really excited to be rotating with Oregon State because they're one of my favorite teams. Being a Pac-10 team, we've competed with them often, and I know a lot of the girls.
Tasha Schwikert: Well Thank You! The biggest challenge of competing individually definitely will be NOT having the direct team support by our side at all times. Our international experience in having to compete as individuals will help a little in this situation, but the big thing is that most of our teammates who did not qualify are graciously flying themselves up to OSU to watch us compete. That's HUGE!!! Them coming up will make a world of difference in the feeling of support, and although they are not competing, they will make it feel as though the team is right by our side. I want to thank my teammates again for sticking together until the end ... You are all amazing!!! At UCLA, we gymnasts have a motto - we are "Delta Force" and don't leave any women behind!

John (Salt Lake): First off Nationals will not be the same with out you there. I hope that we see you there next year! My question is on the judging. Have you liked Having judges rotate like they have been this year? I know as fans we have liked it. Has it changed the way you approach the season? One last question. I have noticed that judging has been pretty consistent overall. There all always going to be a few differences when you go from place to place, but the biggest differences seem to be going from the SEC to other confrences? Do they look at different things?
Miss Val: I do like having judges from other areas judge our meets. You know, I really can't answer the SEC Conference question, especially with the team we had this season. I was so concerned with just getting our athletes into a rhythm where they felt confident competing, I really didn't notice the scoring so much. I do notice the comments about some of our choreography when we go to different places, but I don't know if it affects the judges. Sorry I can't answer this more thoroughly.

Lucie ( Bon Homme, S. Dakota): Dear Alyssa can you tell more how you got involved with UCLA gymnastics, your decision to walk-on and how it's been so far??? thanks!!!!!
Alyssa Kitasoe: Dear Lucie,
Here is a link to the Between the Bars for December 16, 2005, where I addressed this very subject. As an update to how I am feeling today, I feel honored and privileged to be on a team comprised of not only outstanding athletes but amazing and exceptional individuals. Every day I am grateful and blessed that my dream to be a member of my "dream team", UCLA, came true for me. Every day my teammates and coaches enrich my life in different ways, and every day I learn more about myself because I am part of this team. The coaches and my team continue to amaze me with their compassion and support of each other, and it feels great to know how hard each of us work for that one unified goal -- to be the best that we can be with no regrets.

Jessica (HB): Kate, Kristina & Ari, You three have changed your beam routines around, adding and subtracted elements so many times this year... is there anything in the beam code you can't do? :)
Kate Richardson: Haha, yes! We prepare a lot of skills so that we're able to have a backup when we have to change it.
Kristina Comforte: Ha Ha, yes we have changed our routines many times this year, especially Ari! I have always found that of any event, beam is the event that I have the most skills to choose from. I was always a dare-devil on this event and was always up for trying anything new. But of course there are skills that I can't do, such as a round-off!
Ariana Berlin: Haha! Yes, there are a lot of things I can't do that are in the code! It just came down to the skills I remembered doing in club. It had been so long that I couldn't even remember some of the skills I used to train!

Rachel (Davis): Tasha, do you regret competing this year and not taking a medical redshirt? Good luck on vault at NCAA's!!!
Tasha Schwikert: Rachel ... Thanks a lot, I really appreciate it! I don't regret for one second competing this year and not taking a redshirt. Although I had an injury-stricken season, where it was prospected I could not compete, as soon as I was cleared, I wanted to do anything in my power to be able to contribute and help my teammates. I personally feel that not giving my 100% effort in being able to contribute in some way would be a selfish act, which is the opposite of who I am and what I am all about. I am all about my teammates and am so happy I made the push to come back, even with watered-down routines. Regardless of what happened this season, I have no regrets and am fired up to compete next season!

Mark Kowal (Eagle Rock,CA.): Dear Coach Field, I know the team had a rebuilding season. Will the bruins be able to bounce back next season? And #2 Where will the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championship be held in 2007?
Miss Val: Hi, Mark. We will most definitely be able to bounce back next season! But, we'll need you in the stands supporting us in your blue and gold hair at each home meet, with the same enthusiasm you bring to our basketball games. This is an exciting and challenging venture, and every Bruin is important.

NCAA's in 2007 will be in Utah and at Georgia in 2008.

Daniel from Fullerton CA.: My first question is to the freshmen. When UCLA walks on the floor a lot is expected because the name UCLA is known as a power house. All of you had a great year and held tradition. How has your personal growth not just on the mat, but in the classroom as well changed you? My second question is for Kate who I will miss dearly. Did you like the T-shirt? I hope you did. Good luck in everything you do!
Kristina Comforte: Being a part of the UCLA gymnastics team, of course there is a lot expected in terms of not only gymnastics but academics as well. I knew that coming in, and I was ready for the challenge when I first came. It has helped me to become much more organized and responsible.
Kate Richardson: Yes, thank you very much. It was really cool!

D W (Anaheim Hills): You have done such a great job building fan support by having frequent updates to the website (including video highlights), you and team members visiting with the Den members when they were camping out for the basketball games - even sending them pizza, the idea for the cookouts before the home matches, shirt giveaways at the meets, etc. Where do you come up with all these good ideas ?
Miss Val: Wow - thanks. Most of the ideas come from wanting to encourage more and more people to come out to meets to enjoy our awesome team. The pizza and Wetzel's Pretzels were merely a show of appreciation to the Bruin Den for supporting all UCLA sports.

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