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Gymnastics Team To Answer Your Questions This Week
Courtesy: UCLA Athletics  
Release:  03/03/2008
Members of the 2008 UCLA Gymnastics team answered questions from the fans for the third Ask the Bruins Q&A session of the school year. Read below to see if your question was answered.

Due to the large amount of questions that came in this week, we will be offering another Q&A next week. We will begin taking questions on Monday, Mar. 10.


Chris from Vegas: Tasha S. - What was it like working with the Olympic team?
Tasha Schwikert: It was an invaluable experience that I'll cherish forever. We all ended up becoming very close after spending months and months of training together as well as living together. Having that common goal of competing for your country is the ultimate bonding experience.

Christian (Hollywood, CA.): Shavahn, do you plan on adding any other events besides bars by post season? Glad to have you competing! Kristina, glad to also have you back! Do you plan on adding beam or floor by post season? How is the bruised bone feeling? Ashley, have you still been training vault, particularly the yur. half on piked front off? Lastly, Brittani, do you have any plans on adding a hindorff in your bar routine? Thanks ladies! GOOOO BRUINS!!!
Shavahn Church: I'm working beam, but my main priority right now is bars. On the days that my knee is hurting, I just focus on bars and rehab.
Kristina Comforte: Thanks Christian! I honestly can't begin to explain how great it feels to be back competing something! I do plan on competing more events by post-season. I have started to train beam again, and I'm hoping to make it back into the beam lineup by Sunday as long as everything goes well in practice. I'm going to start training floor conditioning and slowly get back to tumbling, and I have every intention of competing floor by post-season. My knee is feeling much better! I'm so thankful that it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The bruise continues to get better and better and hasn't been much of an issue lately.
Ashley Jenkins: I've just been trying to get back in on my other events after being injured right before the season started. I've been doing drills on vault, but my biggest priority is getting back in on beam and floor.
Brittani McCullough: I do not have plans to add the hindorff in this year. I'll probably train it over the summer, though.

Nancy in Bloomington, IN: Could you please give us an update on how Anna Li's recovery is going? I saw she was in a boot on Sunday for the Oregon State meet. Anna, best wishes for a speedy recovery! I love the choreography in your floor routine and hope you will be able to compete it at regionals and nationals. Thanks for putting your meets and videos online - it's the only way for this Bruin fan in southern Indiana to follow the team!
Miss Val: Anna's recovery is going really well. She competed in the all-around almost every meet for us this year, so it was the perfect time to give her a bit of a break. She should be back in the line-up this Sunday for our last home meet. She might not do floor, as it may take another week to get her back into confident floor shape. Regarding her floor routine, she is a lot of fun to choreograph for. She's got beautiful lines, great rhythm, and a keen understanding of movement.
Anna Li: Hi, Nancy! My foot is holding up alright! I wear my boot outside of the gym to prevent pain when I'm not working out, basically just to rest it when I'm not training and competing on it. It seems to be helping a lot! I'll be back in no time! Thanks for all your support!

Mark (Torrance): I was proud that UCLA fans were always respectful. They would applaud good performances no matter the team. At the meet vs UTAH, I was sitting between Utah fans & UCLA Students. Although the Utah fans were loud, they become quiet once the next athlete was announced. They would also applaud a good performance by UCLA. The few times they did not quiet down immediately were the times the athlete wasn't announced. The UCLA students were rude. Once, many of them stood and turned their backs when UTAH was competing. The worst was one UCLA student who actually did a mocking dance during UTAH's floor performances. I was wondering, is this a one time incident, or has the gymnastics fans lost their respectfulness and gone the way of football?
Miss Val: I echo your sentiments of our usual gymnastics fan base and the poor display of sportsmanship that some of the UCLA students had at our meet on Feb. 24th. The UCLA students that come to our meets on a regular basis are great and understand what the sport of gymnastics is all about, including what it means to be a true gymnastics fan. I invite you to read this blog by Eric Spillman from KTLA about the sportsmanship he witnessed at one of our home meets. At our last meet against Oregon State, our student section, which included the entire women's basketball team and other student-athletes, was very respectful and appreciative of both teams. They particularly went wild for the floor routine of Tasha Smith from Oregon State. I would say that is more the norm from our regular crowd.

Ray Knecht Lynchburg VA.: I enjoyed watching you in West Virginia last year.When will you be back on the east coast? I miss having season tickets to your meets and miss watching you compete.
Miss Val: We might be back in your area for regionals if we get sent out that way. And, by the way, we really enjoyed our trip to West Virginia. It was the first time we had competed there.

Cynthia (Los Angeles, CA): Tasha, how are you feeling knowing that these last couple of meets are your last as a Bruin? Also, what's your favorite memory at UCLA and will you try for the 2008 Olympics? I'm going to miss watching you and Jordan!
Tasha Schwikert: It's going to be bittersweet. I'm sad that my gymnastics career is coming to an end, but I'm excited about starting the next chapter of my life, which right now is headed towards going into sports-casting and commentating. I'm going to definitely miss the team atmosphere and all my teammates and coaches, and most of all being a UCLA Bruin. One of my favorite memories at UCLA was when I was honored at a football game in front of 80,000 fans for representing UCLA in winning the NCAA all-around title as a freshman. I will be at the Olympics this year, but as an interning production associate with NBC. It will be my third Olympics attending but my first not as an athlete. It should be exciting!

Jennifer (Thousand Oaks, CA): Hey Chris! Just wanted to know how you manage to find time to coach both at UCLA and GymJam? Also, do you have any update on what Mohini has been up to since the 2004 Olympics?
Chris Waller: Jennifer, So you are wondering how I have the time to coach both UCLA and GymJam...Well, I have long, wonderful days. I get to UCLA at 7am. We have a coaches meeting at 7:30. Then, the girls work out from 8am to 12 noon. I usually leave UCLA by 2:30pm and head over to GymJam at that time. So, I coach there from about 3:30-8:30.

Regarding Mohini, she is working with me at GymJam. She coaches all levels, including the optional levels. She is a great coach and has an excellent rapport with the gymnasts. In August of 2007, she got married to a marine, Jeff Barry. She will be at this Sunday's meet at UCLA.


claire (calgary, canada): how do your injured athletes stay involved with the team when they are unable to practice? Also how do you encourage your team dynamics and and togetherness? thanks for the great gymnastics, keep up the good work!
Miss Val: It's tough for any injured athlete to feel truly involved with the day-to-day team training. However, the injured athlete's first priority is to get all of her treatment, rehab, and strength work done. Once that is done (whether it's in the gym or in the training room) she comes back into the gym and helps her teammates out with the rest of training. I make sure to give her something specific to work on in the gym so she doesn't feel like she's not useful just because she's not able to train. Example: Anna worked with Mizuki yesterday on her floor routine to get her movements sharper and more crisp. It was great seeing the two work together so intently to get a sharper final product.

Sarah (Los Angeles): You guys look really solid this year and also look like you're having a lot of fun. Since most people seem to be competing at the top of their game, how are you going to step it up for the postseason? Can't wait to watch your championship run!
Miss Val: Your question made me laugh. I JUST got through sharing with our team that they remind me of our teams back in the late 1990's. I remember speaking to the teams back then that had Lena Degteva, Stella Umeh, Heidi Moneymaker, Leah Homma, Kiralee Hayashi... to name just a few ... and saying, "Ladies, we don't always have to wait until Championship season to compete at the top of our game. We can hit 24 for 24 right now if we want to." I believe that the dynamic with our team this year is that they want to "win" so badly that sometimes they've competed "tight". They know they're good, and they know they can contend for the Championship title. We've actually switched up the dynamics in our daily training a bit to help them relax. I believe it's worked because this last meet in Pauley was the first time I've felt them ... here we go ... Calm and Confident.

Jason, El Segundo, CA: How difficult is it balancing your academic load and gymnastics during the competition season?
Ariana Berlin: It's actually not as hard as it seems. Since most of us have grown up having to balance both school and gym, we were kind of already prepared for it. One tough part is that since we travel on Thursdays and don't come back until Saturday, we end up missing Thursday and Friday class, but as long as you stay on top of work and keep in close contact with your professors, it's easy to stay on track.
Kristina Comforte: To tell you the truth, it is almost easier to balance school work and gymnastics during season. For one, we aren't training as much as we do during preseason in order to not tire us out too much. Also, when we travel, we are all doing our homework while we wait to board the plane, on the plane, in the hotel, etc. I take much more advantage of my downtime during season to work on my schoolwork.

K. W., Pasadena, CA: Niki Tom, loved your floor routine! How did it feel to compete it for the first time at UCLA? What is your music and who did your choreography?
NiKi Tom: Hi K. W.! Thank you so much. I am so glad you enjoyed my routine and last weekend's meet! Competing floor for the first time in Pauley was surreal. I have never been so excited to do a floor routine in my entire gymnastics career! I was especially eager to compete this routine because this is the first fun, upbeat routine I have had. It is a nice change from the usual serious and dramatic routines I had in club. I was having so much fun performing that it did not occur to me that it was my first floor routine in Pauley until Miss Val said something after I finished! It was AMAZING! I believe the title of my music is Siss Boom Ba, but I am not quite sure who the artist is. As for the choreography, Ari did the majority of the choreography and helped in teaching me how to move, but it was definitely a joint effort with the help of Miss Val, Talia, and Ari's friend Caitlan. Thank you Ar, Miss Val, Tal, and Caitlan!!!

Marilyn J., Los Angeles: This team seems to be very close-knit. What do you do to build team unity? Are the freshmen enjoying college life and adjusting to the pressures of classes, training and travel?
Miss Val: To build team unity, mainly, we recruit people with similar character. They are close knit because they can trust and count on each other. And they can trust and count on each other because they all have great work ethics and understand what Integrity means. This year, in particular, the team blends really well inside and outside the gym. It's great when we travel to see different team members hanging out with other different team members all the time. As far as the freshmen are concerned, I've said it many times before, but I'm proud to be able to say it again, this freshman class is truly remarkable. They ALL enjoy each other, there has not been ONE "girl issue" amongst them where they have a misunderstanding about something. They're just super-great-easy going-fun-hard working people. They are all doing really well in school, with an occasional lesser-than-desired grade, but I just keep reassuring them that it's normal and they'll be fine. Then I tell them the story that I got a "D" in Soc. 101 here. I walked out of the final thinking I'd aced it. I was devastated when I got my grade. But it didn't prevent me from graduating with a really nice GPA.

Dawn, SoCal: This question is for Tasha - as a team leader, do you think there is anything you can do to help get the team unified with confidence right before a meet?
Tasha Schwikert: I feel like everyone on the team contributes to our unification and camaraderie before and throughout our competitions. We have a pre-meet team ritual, and that helps us mentally prepare and get our mental game started.

Julia C., San Diego, CA: I love Talia's floor routine, is it true that she choreographed it herself?
Miss Val: Yes, both Talia and Ariana do most of the choreography in their floor routines. I work with them to tell them what kind of movement should go where. I do a lot of shaking my head "no" when they want to get into really heavy complicated stuff that wouldn't read well in a leotard and on a gymnastics floor. They both have very different styles, so that's been fun for me. Another big difference is that Ari wants my input on EVERYTHING - we decide on some movement, then she fine-tunes it to the -nth degree with the music. Talia, on the other hand, drives me nuts. We discuss what movement should go where, but by the time I get back to turn the music on, she's already switched it to something else! Granted, it looks equally as good, but the process takes infinitely longer. With that said, both are a lot of fun to work with. It's also fun to watch them help each other. They speak a totally different dance language than I do - so I'm actually the foreigner that has the final say of what goes, what stays, and what stays but gets tweaked. Both of them love to work in their baggy hip hop gear - of course, I don't let them because it defeats the purpose of the ultimate goal of being a GYMNASTICS ROUTINE.

Ashlee, Burbank: Do you get homesick a lot and miss your families? Is it hard getting used to living with new people in the dorms?
Allison Taylor: I do occasionally get homesick, I miss my friends and family a lot. However, I am blessed with being at this wonderful school, getting a top of the line education and participating in one of the greatest athletic programs there has ever been at a university. With all of that, it's hard not to love being here and to miss home. With e-mail, phone calls, and text messaging it's really easy to stay in close touch with all my family and friends back home! It wasn't that hard to get used to living with brand new people... It was actually really fun! Athletes usually room with other athletes so that made it easier to make a connection with that person. I love meeting new people and I'm a big talker, so it was really easy :) Thanks!

Mark Kowal(Eagle Rock,CA.): Dear Coach Field & Tasha Schwikert, Do the Bruins have a chance to win on senior salute this sunday in a quad meet at Pauley Pavilion? P.S. I'm taking my niece Malia Kai Kowal to her first women's gymnastics meet this sunday. Go Bruins!
Miss Val: Hi Mark. I'm glad you'll be bringing your niece to her first gymnastics meet. Yes, we absolutely can win this meet, and I can promise you we'll give our honest best effort. Will you be wearing your blue wig?

Joshua (Oklahoma City): Question for Ariana and Natalie... I love UCLA Gymnastics!!! Can you answer me who is a bigger fan than I am?!! Thanks XoxOO (big kiss, little hug, little kiss, Big hug, Big hug)
Ariana Berlin: HAHA! This is Josh Gore right?!?! If so, then you are THE biggest UCLA gymnastics fan in life! If this isn't Josh Gore, then again, Josh Gore is THE biggest UCLA gymnastics fan in life!
Natalie Padilla: I only know one Joshua from Oklahoma City, and that would be Dr. Joshua Gore, and I do believe that you are UCLA gymnastics' biggest fan! I cannot think of anyone else who would fit this description! Thanks for always supporting us, Josh!

Darby (Newport Beach): What is the team schedule/ritual for meet days and what's the favorite leo this season?
Miss Val: Our team goes to the training room first, then out to the tailgate at home meets to say hello to everyone that's there, then they come into the locker room for our pre-meet ritual, which does involve a candle but no sacrifices. And NO I can't tell you what the ritual is because then ... you know the drill ...I'd have to kill you. We do our ritual, do a UCLA 8 Clap, then head out for warm-ups. I'm not a big pre-game speech coach. I figure all of their mental preparation should be done prior to meet day. If anything, Chris and/or I will go over the goals for our meet. As far as our leos, I actually love all of our leos except the white one. Certain individuals can pull off the white, but it's difficult to pull it off as a team. I love working with Candy Dengrove of Rebecca's Mom leotards. She does all of our leos. The way it works is that I usually give her a photo of a gown that was worn at one of the awards shows, and then she works her magic by making it into a leotard. I think she does beautiful work.

Jane (Los Angeles): Tasha, Brittani, Anna, Kristina & Jordan, it was reported that you were all training upgrades on your routines. Tasha: VT: Yurchenko 1 1/2 Bars: Tkachev-Pak; Double Layout Fullout (Can I suggest through watching your old elite routines to mount on the high bar, Tkachev immediate Pak, Shaposh to Overshoot Half, DLO Dismount? IMO, you are the best bar worker in the country!) Beam: Already upgraded, great Straddle-Straddle-Back Tuck, btw! FX: Double Layout Brittani: VT: Yurchenko 1 1/2 Bars: Hindorff -Pak Jordan: Bars: Arabian Double Dismount Anna Bars: Double Layout Fullout Feel better soon! Kristina: VT: Yurchenko 2/1 Any chance we will get to see any of these skills come postseason? Go Bruins...get that natty!
Tasha Schwikert: I feel like I'm in a good place just continuing what I'm doing right now. In preseason I was training those skills, but our goal at UCLA is to be consistent and clean, and I think it's smart to just going to stick with what I've been competing and work on perfecting it.
Brittani McCullough: Maybe a Yurchenko 1 1/2. The Hindorff-Pak will not come in this season.
Anna Li: It is very possible that I will use my double layout full out on bars! I haven't used it yet because I'm still going for that stuck landing, but when the full out is more consistent on sticking, then it's in!!
Kristina Comforte: I haven't had the chance to train any Yurchenko 2/1 lately, but it is never out of the question :)
Jordan Schwikert: I've been working on it a lot in the gym, and it isn't consistent enough to put in a routine yet. I'm still pushing forward into making it consistent.

Jessica (CA): Who is the goofball of the team and what team blooper from this season can you share with us?
Miss Val: Gosh that's hard to answer. We have a team full of dorks. The first person that comes to mind is Forte. She LOVES to sing and dance. Her singing is absolutely horrible, and her dancing is very Phoebe Buffay-esque. But she LOVES it and has no problem with everyone in tears laughing at her. I LOVE it when she sings and dances. Her soul is so free; it's awesome. The one who makes the most random comments is Jenkins. She's a surfer girl who has that "it's all cool" mentality. The conundrum is that she's really bright so she understands the workings of the world in a very avant-garde way. The most recent blooper is Chan missing a foot on a squat on the low bar, which then forced a collapsed arm. It seemed to last forever as she hit every part of her body on the bar on her way to the floor ... on a SQUAT ON. Come to think of it, the biggest goofball on our team without peer is Chris Waller. He is insane in the gym. Every day, without exception, he brings this ballistic, goofball energy to warm-ups that gets everyone laughing and ready to have a great day.

Redokulous Fans (worldwide): Miss Val, what's happening with the black outfits this year? You usually wear white at meets. Either way, your outfits are chic, just curious -we always thought white was your trademark.
Miss Val: This is funny - I simply got to a point that I realized I wear a "uniform" to meets. Grey, black or white pants and a white top. I went out to buy something else to wear and, I kept gravitating toward WHITE. Plus, I knit a lot, and every time I'm looking to start a new sweater I find myself knitting yet another white sweater for meets. I've always had this thing that I want to look professional but inconspicuous. The girls are the ones who are in the spotlight; I'm just the one in the wings who needs to keep everything on track. Plus, white works well when you hug the girls on bars. I'm trying to break out a bit and wear other things in my closet besides my "uniforms". OR I could just accept that I like the white and stick with it.

Andrea Lawless, Boston, MA: What are some of the hardest skills being done this year?
Chris Waller: Andrea, some of the biggest skills this year on UCLA's team include: Anna Li: double layout on floor, double layout off bars, and the biggest Tkatchev on bars in the country. Tasha: 1/2 in 1/2 out on floor, and a double layout off bars, Brittani is doing a full-in back out on floor, and a double tuck off beam, Melissa Chan is doing a round-off layout on beam, and a double back dismount off beam, and Marci is doing a full-twisting swing down on beam.

Allison- Lund: Allison, have people started to notice you like on the streets and in stores? you are quite famous on youtube. ;) And, are you learning any new skills? How different is collegiate gym from club? which one is harder? keep doing awesome!
Allison Taylor: After meets if we are out a restaurant or something, little girls will recognize us because they had just gone to the meet and gotten all of our autographs. I'm not really learning any new skills at the moment; I'm still trying to get stronger and get everything back from when I had my ankle injury. I started training double Arabians again on floor and have just been mainly working on cleaning up my bars set. Collegiate gymnastics is a lot different from club just because it's so much less training and so much more competition. Paired with school and trying to maintain some sort of social life, time management has become key in keeping my life organized. Club and collegiate gymnastics are both hard, but for their own reasons. Thanks for the question!

Jessica (Irvine, CA): What was the inspiration for Comforte's floor routine this year? It's FAB-U-LOUS! Kristina what was your reaction? Did you love it right away, did you always want to do a satire/show stopper/Chicago inspired routine?
Miss Val: This is truly how it happened. Eric Larson, who does all of our music, sent me a CD with about 30 songs on it. I was playing it in the gym, and this real campy music came on. I was standing with Ariana, and we both started laughing, saying the only one schmaltzy enough on our team to pull this off is Kristina. Right then, Kristina walked in the gym, and immediately started dancing to the music. Ari and I could not stop laughing. I agree with you about how well she does it. It's one of my all-time favorites.
Kristina Comforte: Thank you! I'm glad you like it. I did love it right away. Miss Val is an AMAZING choreographer, and I pretty much like whatever she does. I never thought I would be doing a satire, but it definitely fits me. I'm a pretty goofy person and dance crazy all the time, so it is a lot of fun for me to be able to show my personality when I compete.

Ted Bloom Tucson AZ: Miss Val,Is there a way I can be emailed when your team is coming to Arizona. I was so terribly disappointed to read about the meet instead of being there to support your team. I have had to move to AZ for health reasons and would really like to see your team when they are in town. Miss Val, you may remember me from a couple years ago when I tried to become more involved in fund raising but my health won't allow me to at this time. But I love your team and want to support them when I can. Thank you, Ted Bloom AKA Bruin74
Miss Val: Wow, thanks, Ted. It's so good to hear from you. I will absolutely let you know when the Bruins are back in Arizona. I hope the Arizona weather is helping you feel better.

Jason, San jose, Ca: Hi, I wanted to know if any of the team members are planing to try out for Olympics this year. This includes teams for Canada and Great Britan. Thank you, Go UCLA
Miss Val: No one from our current team is planning on training for the Olympics. Hopefully, Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs will represent Canada in the Games. She will be a freshman for us next fall.

Laura, Los Angeles: Ariana, can you talk a little about the experience you had when you got back into the sport after your retirement? When I think of how sore I can be after just a few days off, I can't imagine the physical process you would have to undergo in order to be successful. How long did it take, how active had you been, and how sore *were* you? Would you say that you're in the best competitive shape of your life, or were you even *better* as a junior?
Ariana Berlin: When I came back to gym, oh yes, I had my "I can't get out of bed, I'm so sore days," but when you start getting into a daily routine, your body adapts. It took me my senior year (high school) + summer + preseason of my freshman year (college) to finally be back in competitive shape. Prior to going back to gym I was dancing a lot, hip-hop and break-dancing, but zero gymnastics training. I would definitely say that I am in the best competitive shape of my life. So much of our training consists of conditioning, plus we do a lot of cardio on our own time.

Snejana, The Bronx, NYC: Miss Val, how does the team handle fashion coordination throughout the year? Are you actively involved with leo design, or does the company come to you with ideas that you select from? On an ongoing basis, is there some sort of schedule for what leo and warm-ups will be worn throughout the year, or does the team decide as the season progresses? However you do it, you do a great job - GO BRUINS!
Miss Val: Please see an above answer for leotard design. As far as what the team wears each week, they are given all of their competition gear, and they decide what to wear in warm-ups and competition. Every once in a while I request they wear a certain leotard, but I like all the leos, so it doesn't matter to me what they wear each week. Thank you for the compliment.

Rhonda (Woodland Hills): Tasha - Besides your gymnastics, I really enjoy your commentary and insights on the LA36 broadcasts of UCLA gymnastics. Great jobs! Thanks! What's next for you after UCLA goes to the NCAAs?
Tasha Schwikert: Thank you. Making my path into the sports-casting field is my next goal. I was selected to go over to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics with NBC as an interning production associate. I'm super-excited about this once in a lifetime opportunity, and hopefully that will open doors for many more opportunities or jobs.

Lori, Reseda: Jordan, what are your plans after graduation?
Jordan Schwikert: I want to get into interior design school and intern in that field.

Laura, Chicago: Miss Val, how on earth do you find time to do everything that you need to as Head Coach, AND also choreograph an entire team's worth of floor routines, year after year? Have you ever considered bringing in an assistant who could take some of the pressure off of you?
Miss Val: That's a good question. It's really about staying on top of things. Plus, I choreograph routines best when I go in the gym by myself and work out the choreography before I work with the girls. Then I teach it and tweak it per their strengths, body lines, etc. During that time, dancing in the gym is my daily workout. I LOVE being able to still dance (a bit). I love being sore again in all the dancy places... my feet especially get really tight. And, I actually do have assistance because some of the girls always ask to help choreograph or clean routines. Finding the right music for each of the girls is the hardest part for me. I've been asked a lot about my motivation for Brittani's routine this year. I wanted to give her something with a darker more mysterious feel to it. If you look at her routine and Chan's, along with Ari's and Talia's, all of their energy in their dance is choreographed to be directed down into the floor, versus up and ethereal like Anna's. The polishing touch to Brittani's routine, like all of them, was to get her to zero in with her focus and have her focused intent permeate through her face and body. I believe she's doing that quite well now.

Lori - Dallas, TX: Since many of you know girls from the opposing teams from your club, the national team, etc., are you able to spend any time with them after the meet catching up? Or is the schedule usually too tight to allow for that? Good luck with the rest of your season!!
Kristina Comforte: Unfortunately sometimes we have to leave the meet right away, so most of the time we don't get to spend much time with them after meets. We do get to chit chat a little bit after, so we can catch up a little bit.

Rhonda (Woodland Hills): For P. J. Irvin - How did you become involved with the women's gymnastics team and how are your football teammates handling it? Keep up the good work!
P.J. Irvin: A couple of us were friends with the girls freshman year, and we became the "male groupies". We started coming into practice, and last year Miss Val and Ari talked and asked if I wanted to be a part of the team for my senior team since I'm done with football. My football teammates are supportive; they've always come to the meets.

John (Lawndale): First, I hope everyone is HEALTHY for this Sunday :-) My question deals with the "touch period" before each event. What, if anything, do you look to do during the "touch period"? If there is a "universal" answer, this can come from a coach, but if it is an "indivdual" thing, I would like to know what each gymnast looks to do. Thanks in advance!
Miss Val: We talk with our athletes a lot about this touch period. It is meant to keep the body warm, and help get the athlete into the mode of that event. We always coach our athletes to do clean, good gymnastics for their heads as well as to reduce possible injury. However, if an athlete is "off" during the touch, we don't make it a big deal. We just talk to them about re-engaging their cues, take one skill at a time, stay in the moment - don't rush.

Elizabeth (LA): Anna, I know it's a little early, but if you make event finals at NCAAs on bars or floor, would you throw in any added difficulty to your routines?
Anna Li: Hi Elizabeth! For Bars and Floor I do have skills that I have been working on. On bars I've been training my double layout full out dismount, and for the floor possibly ending with a double pike!

Emma (Paignton): Hey, is Shavahn planning on adding a same bar release to her bar routine this season? Thanks.
Miss Val: She's working on a routine that has a Jaeger in it, but it makes the routine really long because she has to maintain the same skills before her dismount. So right now we're working on keeping the routine she's competing but making her handstands more consistent.

lisa: What is the story with the mat the athletes are using in front of the sting mat on floor? It is downright dangerous as illustrated in the meet against Utah. Brittani tripped over it running prior to the pass where she had the fall onto her neck when it slipped out from under her on take off. Anna Li had a funny take off from it as well which preceded her injury on the double layout landing.
Miss Val: Good astute question. Actually, Brittani slipped on the mat because she rushed her round off back-handspring and hit the mat at a really sharp angle. It wasn't the mat that caused the mistake. She has been tumbling with it in all season without a negative incident. With that said, we only planned on using the sting mat for the first part of season because it really does reduce the sting of punching with our athletes who have ankle pain, and taking it out for the last part of the season. The only person we planned on keeping the sting mat in for is Anna for her double layout. She feels that it significantly helps her punch and reduces the pain in both of her feet. She is the first to say that it wasn't the mat that caused her to take off poorly for her double layout. This past weekend, we weaned the athletes off the sting mat, as we had originally planned.

Anna(Northridge): Do all the injuries in gymnastics make it less worth while or is it just something you have to deal with?
Kristina Comforte: I'm not going to lie; injuries are very tough to deal with. But in my experience, I use them as a chance to grow. I'm a firm believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason, and something good can always come out of it. At first injuries are always disappointing and aggravating, but having the opportunity to compete for such a high profile university like UCLA, makes all the injuries and rehab worth it. It is just like any other sport. There are going to be injuries, but if you love the sport like I do, it will make it all worthwhile.

Jennifer: Tasha, Do you stay in contact with any of your teammates from the 2000 Olympics?
Tasha Schwikert: Yes, I continue to stay in contact with a few of them. Dominique Dawes and I chat from time to time. In recent summers I've worked with Jamie Dantzscher, as well as seeing her at UCLA. And I'm always keeping tabs on Kristen Maloney and how she's doing in her Cirque shows.

Kara(Van Nuys): What does Redshirt mean?
Miss Val: The term redshirt is used for all athletic teams. A student-athlete normally has a 5 year period to compete 4 years. A redshirt year is when a student-athlete and/or coach elect for the student-athlete to not compete at all that year, thereby leaving 4 years remaining to compete. The difference between this and a medical hardship year is that in the latter, the student-athlete can compete up to 30% of the total number of competitions that year, but the competitions have to occur within the first half of the competition season.

tricia, Long Beach, CA: For Ariana, how's your leg?? How it different in training with rod inside and without rod?? Any pain?? How did u deal with it??
Ariana Berlin: My leg feels amazing! Absolutely no more femur pain. Since it was a pretty major surgery, I have a lot of scar tissue built up in my knee, which is giving me some pain, but it is definitely workable!

Allison Palm Beach Fl: Tasha S- When you did not make the 2004 Olympics and were named an alternate, did you consider retiring from the sport? What was your motivation to keep going?
Tasha Schwikert: No, I did not consider retiring because I had already signed a letter-of-intent to compete for UCLA the next four years. My goal was always to go to UCLA and do gymnastics. Whatever the outcome was in 2004, I was still thrilled to go on and continue my gymnastics and academics at UCLA.


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