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UCLA Gymnastics Coaches Will Answer Questions From Fans
By: UCLA Athletics
For the second installment of Ask the Bruins, the Bruin coaches responded to questions from the fans. Read below to see if your question was answered.

LuAnne, Calabasas, CA: Miss Val, Congratulations on winning the award for your SeaWorld show, Riptide. Where do you get the inspiration for your choreography? Do you attend dance programs like ballet, jazz or modern?
Miss Val: Thank you. The Riptide show at SeaWorld is pretty amazing. I've worked at SeaWorld with their summer nights shows for about 17 years now. I've always been amazed at the professional level of talent they get. Plus, the people on the creative team that I get to work with at SeaWorld are all at the top of their respective fields. Great fun.

About my choreographic inspiration, I do my best work when I'm working with and getting feedback from a lot of different people. I love to hear what people think as the process is coming together. I most enjoy hearing observations from a lay person or the tech guy or crew person because ultimately they're the majority of the audience we're producing for. Even at UCLA, I feed off of the positive or negative comments about my work in progress.

To answer the second part of your question: I do attend a lot of dance programs, I watch dance every chance I get, and I still take dance classes. (My knees have been getting a bit cranky as the years are accumulating but to be able to dance is worth the pain.)

Curtis, San Rafael, CA: Jim Foody, How are you manageing to juggle the responsibilities of being the asst. Bruin coach and head coach of a club team?
Jim Foody: I'm doing pretty well juggling both responsibilities, but it has been a busy couple of months. Whenever you start something new there is always the initial adjustment phase. At UCLA, that adjustment seemed to go fairly quick. It really helped that I've been close with Val and Chris since 1992 when I started here as a Bruin student-athlete. As far as doing this and working for JAG, it is tough but I really like working at JAG. It is such a well-run facility, I coach a bunch of great kids, and it is easily one of the best gyms I've ever walked into. Anytime I'm feeling a bit overworked, I just remind myself how fortunate I am as a coach. I get to coach athletes at the J.O. Level, NCAA Level, and hopefully someday the Olympic Level - not a bad deal...

Michael (New York): Which athletes will be doing the AA? Which athletes currently stand-out on each apparatus? Are there any potential lineups already being thought about? If so, can we get a preview of what is going on in the coach's minds?
Miss Val: If we can get healthy and stay healthy, our top all-arounders would be between Tasha, Jordan, Anna, Comforte, Ariana, Jenkins, Melissa and Brittani. We are still trying to get Ariana and Melissa Chan healthy. Brittani, Kristina and Jenkins are able to train fully a day or two a week maximum. The days they are able to train, their gymnastics is spectacular.

Then we've got standouts on every event like Natalie Padilla, who is much better gymnastically than she was last year because she is much more confident. Marci Bernholtz is strong, clean and confident on bars and beam. Niki Tom is one of our best balance beam workers and continues to improve on the other three events. Mizuki Sato will see a lot of competition this year because she'll be able to come in and compete well to give our upper-classmen a break. Allison Taylor could break into our bar line-up (she just got out of the boot yesterday), and Talia Kushynski has surprised all of us with how much she's improved in such a short period of time.

As with every other year, we are hoping to be able to mix up our line-up this year to give each athlete a substantial amount of competitive experience and to be able to rest certain athletes when needed so we can be healthy in March and April.

Susan (Liverpool, England): Hi Miss Val! I am really excited to learn that Shavahn Church will join the Bruins in January! With her beautiful movement and your brilliant choreography, what kind of floor routine can we expect to see from her this year? I really enjoyed her floor routines as an elite gymnast and can't wait to see what she does in NCAA. Also, now that Shavahn is officially competing for UCLA this year, does this mean that she is finished with elite, or does she still have plans to try for a spot on the British Olympic team? Thank you and good luck for the coming season! Susan x
Miss Val: Susan - We are extremely excited that Shavahn will be joining us. Unfortunately, she continues to have problems with her right knee. She tweaked it again at the Pan Am Games this summer and hasn't recovered since then. We are hoping with consistent physical therapy and treatment that we'll be able to manage her pain to allow her to compete in a few events this year. We really won't know much until she gets here. And yes, I agree with you, her movement quality is exceptional. I will have a lot of fun choreographing for her. I actually have already enjoyed that experience, as I choreographed her floor routine when she was nine years old. She was an amazing artist way back then. A bit of trivia about our newest Bruin - she is a voracious reader and enjoys reading all types of books.

Karen (Los Angeles): Barring injuries, do all of the gymnasts have a competition-ready routine for all four events? Or, do some of the athletes only train certain events? Can't wait for the season to start. Good luck!
Miss Val: The only ones not training all events are those restricted for now. For example, Allison Taylor has been in a boot for the past four weeks because we found a stress reaction where she fractured her foot last year.

Ali: How are the new Freshman settling into the team, and what can we expect from them this coming season?
Miss Val: Our freshmen are amazing. I can't use enough superlatives to describe the lot of them. I keep trying to think of an appropriate aphorism that describes them as a group, but I can't think of one that encompasses how amazing they are as people. Their talents actually get overshadowed by their character when I think of how impressive they are. Truthfully, every single day at least one person on our team will mention how much they "love our freshmen".

Dana: How big a role will Shavahn play when she joins the team, and will she compete strictly for UCLA or will she also try to make the GBR team for olympics?
Miss Val: Please see the questions above regarding Shavahn. Right now we have no idea if she'll be able to compete this year. We need to get her here and fully examine her knee and what she is able to do. One day at a time.

Dave (Ithaca, NY): Val: Who taught you how to give that fierce look with your eyes when you perform? Which are your favorite floor routines this year?
Miss Val: Fierce? When have you ever seen me perform? All of my performance tapes are on "reel" so I don't think they'll be hitting You Tube any time soon. Regarding floor routines, I hate to admit this but ... they aren't even finished! I did Anna's then decided it wasn't different enough from last year, so I'm starting over. I haven't even started Tasha's, Mizuki's, or Allison's. And most of the other girls have only half or 3/4 of theirs completed. I do this every year. I drive myself crazy. Oh well. I'll let you be the judge of which ones you like best this year. FYI: Ariana's and Talia's are way cool in a "dance it up hip-hop sort of way". And Kristina's is a bit on the satirical side. It's really cute when she schmaltzes it up.

Emma (Toulouse): Do you actively recruit gymnasts from foreign countries (other than Canada)? Thanks.
Miss Val: I would recruit anyone from a foreign country if they had the grades and were fluent in English. Do you have anyone in mind???

Rich (Bath): Val, how did you get to be so wise?
Miss Val: This is funny. I actually looked at your name to see if I knew you and if this question was a joke on me. Are you joking? If not, thank you for such a venerable compliment. "Wise" is a word I always associate with someone far more accomplished and learned than I.

michigan: will you ever schedule a mac team?
Miss Val: Like most other conferences, our conference schedule dictates the majority of our meets. We usually only have 2 home and 2 away meets each year that we can schedule out of the Pac-10. However, I do like to take our team to new places, so I am open to discuss this.

Kasey (La Crosse, WI): I love UCLA because I believe Valorie Kondos Field has brought back the ARTISTRY in gymnastics! You can tell their is such a PASSION for that aspect of gymnastics at UCLA, and that is so great to see. I was just wondering how the new routines are going thus far, and if the public will get a sneak peek of the new routines online?? I love seeing what val can think of. I was also wondering how long it takes to choreograph each of these routines... and how difficult/easy it is for each gymnast to pick it up. Thanks... and Go Bruins!
Miss Val: Choreographing feels a lot like writing to me. Sometimes it just flows, and other times I am blank. It's the writer's block/choreographic block that drives me crazy. I literally stand there and say, "You can do this. You've done this for 30 years. Just listen to the music and MOVE." Sometimes it works, and sometimes I have to go home and come back tomorrow hoping for more inspiration.

It usually takes about 4 hours to craft a routine. Some athletes like Anna Li can do any style of dance, so it actually takes longer because I can get more avante garde and intricate with her. Others who don't pick up movement as quickly take a long time because I still want them to look a bit different and have their own "look" - so it's hard to come up with movement that isn't stock. Then there's Ariana, who has to inspect each microgroove of her choreography. It takes us FOREVER to finish her routines, although it is a lot of fun working with her. Especially because I look ridiculous dancing to her style. She only laughs at me when I REALLY look foolish. Still, she's very appreciative of my input and only laughs when she absolutely can't help it. Talia is another hip-hop dancer we have this year. Totally different style than Ari, but just as much fun to watch.

I don't have any plans on putting any of our routines online any time soon because they're still in their infant stages. LOTS of tweaking to do.

Chloe, Mason, OH: Dear Coach, I am 12 years old and started level 6 this year. I really want to go to college at U.C.L.A. so what do I have to learn in gymnastics?
Jim Foody: Chloe, I cannot say that there is a specific skill list that would qualify an athlete to UCLA. As a coach there are so many things to look for in the athletes you are recruiting. But if I could pick one thing for me as a coach which I find the most important in any athlete it would be passion. Passion for the sport and a solid work ethic will take any athlete where they are trying to go.

Good luck!

Jordan (Toronto): Do your athletes do any cardio or dance outside of their training at UCLA?
Miss Val: Yes, they all do cardio on their own time. A few of them take dance classes with Ariana and Talia, others take Yoga or Tae Bo. Billy Blanks, the athlete/trainer who started Tae Bo, actually comes and teaches at UCLA.

Sharla: What would your dream style of floor music be?
Miss Val: If I were to dance it, it would be a wild Tango. To choreograph, I really don't have a preference. I just have to be able to see the movement when I hear the music. If I can't see it, I literally can't use the music.

Carol (Mississauga): Hi, Miss Val! It seems my fellow Canucks love going south of the border for your program. (Can't blame 'em!) Do your past and present Canadian Bruins' ever have difficulty getting used to living in a different country or going to an American college? Hopefully they feel right at home with their amazing teammates, and make it home throughout the year to see their families.
Miss Val: I don't think our current Canucks have had any problems living in a different country. None of them have had any problems adjusting to college in the States. They have all had excellent academic preparation. As for going home, I don't have a problem with any of our athletes taking an extended weekend to go home if they're homesick as long as they get some training in at home.

Kara (Brea, CA): I am really excited about the upcomming season! I know its still early, but who are the standout athletes on each event so far? Thanks and enjoy the holiday season!!
Miss Val: Thank you for the question. I answered a good part of this question earlier. However, I would like to add that it is so exciting watching Brittani, Kristina and Ariana train. The three of them haven't trained much since they've been here because of injuries. It's such a nice surprise when I look over and see that they are doing full sets.

Chelsea (Costa Mesa): Hi! I often wonder what words of wisdom/advice you give to your athletes seconds before it is their turn to compete on an event... Do you talk to every athlete before it's their turn? Also, do you give more of a pep talk or a reminder of what to work on during their routines? Thank you so much! :)
Miss Val: Ha ha - if only I could answer this with TOTAL honesty. The reason I can't is because a lot of what I say is personal to each individual athlete. Truly, everyone is different. One athlete we had a few years ago had such a solid relationship with God that I would remind her that she was performing for an audience of One. She told me that calmed her to be able to be her best. An athlete like Ariana likes to hear reminders of her cues. Then there are athletes like Mohini, who did her best when I talked with her like we were on the football field. She'd always want to know what she had to score for us to win. Then she'd hit a routine just a little bit better than that. Some athletes don't want to be told anything technical, some want to only hear reminders of technique. That's one of the most intriguing parts of our job, learning what helps each athlete compete at their best. And sometimes it's better to just be quiet and give them a confident nod to remind them that they're ready.

William Irvine, CA: Last year, I thought Anna Li and Tasha Schwikert had among the very best choreographed NCCA Floor exercise routines. This year, which of the FX routines do you think will be the crowd favorites?
Miss Val: I agree with you about Anna's and Tasha's routines from last year. One of my most fun routines this year is Kristina's. It is sooooooo schmaltzy. When she fully embodies the music and "Divas it up" we all crack up. Ariana's routine is turning out to be very unique. Her new choreography and her performance quality always makes her a crowd favorite to watch.

Anna Lang Los Angele, CA: Can you describe some of the "E" passes/moves some of the gymnasts will likely compete?
Miss Val: Anna learned a double layout on floor. This is remarkable considering that the first time she had ever double flipped on floor was last year when she competed a double pike for us. Jenkins is doing a double Arabian, as is Ariana (she just learned it). Brittani is opening with a full-in. Kristina is doing front double full punch front, and just today she started doing double layouts again. Tasha will have her half-in half-out. Jordan is playing with a double Arabian. And if Melissa can tumble again she'll open with a double Arabian.

Haylie: Miss Val... you have so many beautiful athletes, and near everyone would love to be picked for your program. However, a lot of the nation's top club and international gymnasts are physically "done" and routinely injured/reinjured by this time and at this age. Does the injury track record of the athlete factor into your decision-making when it's time to recruit/choose for scholarships? Do you ever think it would be better to work with a slightly less accoladed athlete who seems less susceptible to injury? Thanks for answering my question and can't wait to watch your fantastic athletes again this season! Haylie :o)
Miss Val: Oh... the proverbial crystal ball. It's really a roll of the dice. With Elite athletes you get more polish, poise, and more competitive experience. You also don't know what you're getting injury-wise. Yvonne Tousek had about 13 bone chips in each ankle when she got to us, she never had them removed, and she competed every year for us. Maloney had the stress fracture from hell but was able to compete 3 out of 5 great years here. Jalynne Dantzscher got a rib displacement the first week of her freshman year and had to injury-retire after her first year. Then we had Carly Raab, a good and powerful level 10 who had never had one injury until the summer before she came to us. She tore her ACL and re-injured the same ACL the very next year. She ended up competing one event one meet in her college career. Who knows??? Thank you for your last statement, I also can't wait to watch our fantastic athletes compete this year.

maria , san jose: where do you see S. Church making the most impact. Can you explain to the fans why she is coming to the team in Jan, will she be ready to perform with the team in time.
Miss Val: Shavahn is actually coming in two quarters early. She was home-schooled for the past 5 years and was on track to graduate in June. Last year she decided to step up her schooling so she could come in this year.

Michael (Reseda): Hi Miss Val! I noticed that when the Bruin's meet schedule was originally released that there were 5 home games. Since then, the number of home games was reduced to 4. How come other gymnastic teams seem to have more home meets this year?
Miss Val: Yes we had Arizona State scheduled for our first meet. For a few different valid reasons they aren't able to make it, and we couldn't find a team to replace them at the last minute. I like to have at least five home meets each year. We share the arena with men's and women's basketball, along with men's volleyball, so our home schedule is limited in that regard.

V.J. (Chicago): Hi Miss Val, We can't wait for the season to start! I heard from a reliable source that the team is looking incredible and that they are going to win the NCAA Championship this year! What do you think?
Miss Val: Would your reliable source happen to be a beautiful blond who happens to also be your daughter? Yes, our team is looking fit, almost fully healthy, and fully charged to compete this year. Our biggest challenge is going to be to stay healthy to have our guns ready and able to compete come April. If we can, there is no doubt they will be mentally and emotionally prepared. If their bodies allow them to compete at the level they are capable of, we're as good as anyone in the country!

Christian (Hollywood, CA.): From training so far, which of the girls could possibly make the lineup on each event? Also, how are the upgrades for each of the girls going since the last installment? Thank you! GO BRUINS!
Chris Waller: We are training the team so that every girl will be ready to compete on every event well and we can enjoy the benefits of a deep team. By using different lineups for competitions we will be able to accomplish a few things. First, we will give our new competitors, Brittani McCullough and the freshmen, an opportunity to compete, while their competitive abilities at the collegiate level are unveiled. Second, competing a variety of people will give all of our team time to recuperate in-between some competitions, keeping us healthy into the post season. Allison just got out of her boot yesterday; so, we will be making appropriate and cautious progression to bringing her back on floor, beam and vault. So, you can expect to see everyone competing over the course of different competitions, with the possible exception of Allison.

We are making steady progress on many of our planned upgrades. Yesterday, Jordan took solid steps forward by landing, on competitive surface, her huge Arabian double front at the end of a partial bars routine. She started doing a unique and really cool-looking gainer tuck full off the end of the beam. Also, she put a beautiful one-footed front tuck on the beam that is gorgeous. AND, she began playing with a one-footed front tuck half - the coolest new trick I have seen on beam in a very long time. Brittani's 1 1/2 is showing promise to be her standard competitive vault. Tasha is doing a new combination on bars: Shaposhnikova + back uprise + freehip + Tkatchev + Pak salto. Tasha's Tkatchev to Pak looks good. She still needs to get her back uprise freehip more consistent. Brittani's new sequence on bars will likely be on hold until later in the season: Shaposhnikova + back uprise + freehip + Hindorff + shootover. Anna's double layout mount and double pike dismount on floor are looking strong. The key will be to get her to perform her dance at the same intensity in practice as in competition, as that is often the fatiguing factor for great performers in front of an audience. Training points to Jenkins (we never call her Ashley) definitely competing her Arabian double front mount on floor. Niki, while not an E, will be mounting floor with a new double pike. Comforte and Tom will be dismounting floor with handspring front full + front 1/2 + ? (you'll have to wait and see). And, Talia will be doing front layout front layout full on floor second pass - completely new for her. And finally, Jordan may be mounting with a whip + double pike. As you can imagine, training is exciting every day with all the new skills in the works!

Stuart (Los Angeles): Dear Coach Val, In most college sports, teams try to avoid competing against the best national competition during the season to improve their win-loss record. You always face the toughest competition. This year is no exception, with home meets against Utah and Alabama, and a road meet against Georgia. Why have you always been so fearless, and why don't more coaches in other sports try your approach?
Miss Val: Most importantly, athletes need to practice competing in the toughest situations possible so they can be as prepared as possible for Championship season. However, keep in mind, we don't have a win-loss record in our sport. In collegiate gymnastics, you could conceivably lose every regular season meet and still win the National Championship. It would be interesting to see different coaches' strategies if our win-loss record counted to get you to the first round of NCAA's. It would be as equally interesting to see how rankings would shake up on the national level if we counted all six scores.

Betsy (Boston): Hi, and thanks for taking the time to correspond with your fans! It seems to me as if, for the first time in several years, you may be once again facing the problem of juggling the line-up such that all the girls get the competition experience they need and stay primed and motivated on all of their events throughout the season. I realize this is a "good" problem to have, but it still must be a challenge. What do you think? Best of luck -- I can't wait for the season to begin!! (Also, can I send a special shout-out to the seniors? I'm so hopeful they will finally experience the thrill of winning a national championship; if so, they will certainly have earned it!!)
Miss Val: Yes, depth is always a great thing to have. Hopefully, we will be able to keep everyone healthy. Right now we aren't quite there yet, but it looks promising that we might actually get everyone healthy at least by mid-season. Having quite a few of our upperclassmen still on the mend might actually help our team in the long run because it will give our freshmen a lot of competitive experience right from the beginning of the season. Thank you for the "shout out" to our seniors. Tasha, Jordan and Natalie are all doing exceptionally well.

Jason (LA): Which event is looking strongest for the team this year? Which event is looking weakest for the team this year? Can't wait for your season to start. It really seems like the team is gonna be very strong this year!!!
Miss Val: Bars and beam look to be our strongest events. We are actually much deeper on beam than we've been in the past few years. Vault isn't necessarily our weakest event, but it is the event we have the least amount of depth. Floor is still very much up in the air because we have so many athletes competing new skills or skills they haven't competed in a long time.

Alice Bigge Los Angeles, CA: What are the roles of the different assistant coaches?
Miss Val: Chris, Jim, and I meet every morning before training to discuss the workout. We each have a strong voice in the proposed course of training for each event and each athlete. Once training starts, Chris is in charge of the warm-up, stretch, conditioning and assigning athletes to different events. He's also mainly responsible for vault and floor, although he coaches on every event. Jim mainly coaches bars, although he also helps on floor and vault. And I coach beam and floor but keep an eye on every event and jump in when needed. When an athlete is struggling with something, it's usually Chris and I who step in together to work through the situation, although Jim has proven to be a quick study with learning our system and understanding how best to work with each individual athlete. We also have Ashley Peckett, Lindsey Vanden Eykel and Alyssa Kitasoe, who help out with all of the minutia of work that is necessary to keep our daily training running smoothly.

Dan: As I'm sure I speak for many fans out there, I can't wait to see what routines you've created on floor this year Val. Can you give us a glimpse into what styles and routines the gymnasts are going to be performing this year?
Miss Val: I mentioned in an earlier question that I'm WAY behind on choreography. I've still got 4 routines to compete by next week. I go through this EVERY YEAR. Each year I say I'm going to start earlier, but once we start school in late September, all of the team things that need to get done in September and October take precedent to choreography.... I guess. Or I'm just using this as a convenient excuse for my procrastination. I can hear Coach Wooden now, "No whining, complaining, or making excuses." Got it ... a 5,6,7,8....

Jennie (Allen, TX): My question is for Lindsey Vanden Eykel... you were my favourite junior elite for a long time and was so disappointed when you had to retire. I hope you have found enjoyment working with the team and living life large out in Cali! What are your duties with the team, and how are things going for you? You were a beautiful gymnast and I wish you the best of luck in all that you do!
Lindsey: Hiii Jennie =)

Thank you so much for all of your kind words. It always makes me smile to know that I have fans as amazing as you. I was very disappointed when I had to injury retire, too. It was really hard for me at first, because I loved gymnastics so much. I was not ready to be done. However, I have found a lot of enjoyment in coaching the team. It has taught me many different things about life that I would not have known otherwise.

My responsibilities are to coach the team on whatever event I am assigned to for that day. Typically I stay in the bars and beam region, and I enjoy coaching those events the most. Those will always be my favorite events no matter what!

Everything else is going really well. I am busy with my 4th year at UCLA, and I recently got a PR internship. I am really excited about that, and I cannot wait to start. Overall, everything is going amazing, and I am really looking forward to the UCLA gymnastics season this year! It is great to hear from you, Jennie. I wish you the best in all of your future endeavors =)

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