Feb. 23, 2004
When senior gymnast Jamie Williams arrived at UCLA in the fall of 2000, she never expected to be in the position she is in now - as part of the starting line-up on a defending NCAA Championship team overflowing with gymnastics superstars. Passing over scholarship offers from Michigan State, UC Santa Barbara and her home state school, Arizona, she decided to attend UCLA as a non-scholarship walk-on, knowing that the opportunity to be part of the UCLA team was something that she could not pass up.
"I wanted to go to University of Arizona initially," said Williams, "but when I came on a recruiting trip to UCLA, I just loved it!"
"It's amazing being part of this team - the National Championships, all the tradition," she explained. "It's the best of the best."
Entering UCLA with Williams were the best of the best. Included in William's class of nine were Olympians Jamie Dantzscher, Kristen Maloney and Yvonne Tousek and World Championship qualifier Jeanette Antolin. Williams was at first overwhelmed.
"During my recruiting visit, I came with Jamie, Elise Ray and Jeanette, and they had just come back from the World Championships and had all these great stories. I remember thinking I didn't have anything in common with them - they were Olympians and I was just level 10, which is not even comparable," Williams recalled. "At first it was intimidating, but now it's just normal. The great thing about college gymnastics is that while it's about your skills, it's more about hitting and being clean. You don't need that level of difficulty and all the bonuses."
With such high-caliber talent on the team already, Williams's journey to the starting line-up wasn't easy.
"My first year, I didn't compete much, but after competing a bit my second year, I started to think that I could do this," said Williams. "I'm naturally shy and reserved, but over time I feel I've become more aggressive and more assertive. I tend to shrink back when I am intimidated, but now I'm more comfortable. It's taken time, but you start to believe that you can reach your full potential and score for the team."
Williams had her first break-out performance as a sophomore in 2002, when she came in on the floor exercise for an injured teammate in front of her home crowd at Arizona, scoring a 9.775.
"I had never made my first (tumbling) pass by myself, and I guess I had to do it to prove it to myself," she said. "It's taken me a while to gain confidence, but now I think that it is here to stay."
This season, Williams has competed in seven of nine meets for the Bruins on the floor and in six meets on the balance beam. She posted a career-high 9.9 on beam in her first meet at Arizona and has averaged 9.771 on the floor exercise, with a season-best of 9.8 achieved three times. With Dantzscher sidelined with an injury during the beginning of the season, there was a need for someone to step up to the next level for the team.
"We've had team meetings, and the coaches emphasize that everyone is needed and everyone will compete," said Williams. "I think it was a surprise for the coaches when they put me in our second meet at Arizona this year that I hit and did well. So they put me in the rotation again at Georgia, and I hit again."
To walk-on to the team is not easy, but the rewards, once achieved, are great.
"The good thing is that there is no discrimination between scholarship and non-scholarship gymnasts, since Miss Val (UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field) emphasizes everyone, and we don't judge each other by our talent or level," Williams stated. "But walk-ons have a lot in common, so we still have walk-on pride."
In addition, the newfound teammates are a welcome change from high school club gymnastics, where each gymnast must train individually without the friendship and support of a team.
"College is way better, since you have 18 teammates all your own age, and you are pulling for each other," Williams affirmed. "It's for the team now, not just for yourself."
Williams credits her recent success to lots of practice, in addition to finding confidence within herself.
"For a while I was thinking that I wasn't that good, compared to the level our team is at," she admitted. "I had to start believing that I could do it."
"Jamie is talented, strong and smart, and she has a beautiful body line in her gymnastics and dance," stated Kondos Field. "She just needed to work on her confidence and aggressiveness. Once she was able to 'bust out' of her shell, she proved to be a tremendous asset to the program."
Given Williams' patience and dedication in the gym, it's no wonder that she has achieved high academic success as well. As a psychology major, she has earned NACGC Scholastic All-American distinction three times and has been picked as a Pac-10 All-Academic honoree twice. Williams credits her success with just being able to manage her time wisely, mostly due to the help of her planner.
"I think I would die without my planner," Williams emphasized. "It keeps me on track, because with the few spare hours that I have, I know I'm going to have to make use of them."
In addition, Williams points out the success of her fellow teammates in the classroom as well.
"We have a lot of really smart girls, as there are a lot of perfectionists in this sport," she said. "There is so much paying attention to detail in the sport that it carries over to school work."
With graduation approaching, Williams knows that her time has been well spent at UCLA. She plans on going on to graduate school, with the thought of going into Sports Psychology and working mainly with teams. Furthermore, she knows that the lessons she has learned from UCLA, gymnastics, Miss Val and her teammates will carry on in the future.
"I've learned that by really believing in something and knowing that you can do it, you usually can. Nothing is too huge to not try for it," she reflected.
Perfect words coming from someone who really did achieve that higher goal.