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Bruin Coaches To Answer Questions This Week
Courtesy: UCLA Athletics  
Release:  03/10/2008
The Bruin coaches answered your questions for this week's Ask the Bruins. Read below to see if your question was answered.

UCLA finishes up the regular season with a dual meet at top-ranked Georgia on Saturday night.


David, Nevada: Coach Valorie, you look fantastic! How do you keep the team's spirit from deflating after the loss and the devastating injuries? This team has so much talent and spunk, we want to see them rebound and finish the season strong.
Miss Val: Athletics is not easy. Losing a meet you should win is tough, and losing athletes to injuries is even tougher. When the going gets tough I just keep reminding myself why I coach. I truly am more concerned about the life lessons that a student-athlete will learn being a part of our program than anything else. With that said, a big part of what we preach is having integrity in everything you do. So as an athlete, they need to be the best athlete they can be, which includes learning how to compete under any types of circumstances or pressure. As far as the team's spirit, it's my job to lead by example, so this whole week Chris, Jim, and I have paid extra attention to being up, positive, pumped up about this weekend, and excited about the line-up. The athletes have followed our example and have had a great week of training and preparation for Saturday's meet. Per our training, we should be able to go into Athens and have a great meet.

Jane (Los Angeles): Can you give us your thoughts on each of the seniors graduating this year? How do they rank up with the greatest student/athletes you have coached? I've watched Tasha in the last 4 years battle through shoulder injury and numerous other little things but still managed to be the top competitor for UCLA year after year...she will be missed! Any chance we'll get to see her come back for a 5th year (requesting her sophomore year as a redshirt...gymnastics fans can only hope)?
Miss Val: Natalie has brought a lot of maturity to our team this year. It's been nice seeing her mature, literally before our eyes, from last year to this year. When asked, she will say that she just decided what kind of a senior year she wanted to have and started "walking the walk". I LOVE watching her on floor. Jordan is very dear to all of us. She is such a beautiful gymnast and person. She has managed to be a steady rock for us in competition through all sorts of nagging injuries. I just love seeing her smile and light up the floor when she performs. She deserves to feel great. And Tasha, one of the greatest NCAA gymnasts of all time. Tasha is a great example of how an athlete goes from "good" to "great". "In order to be really good at the macro, you have to pay attention to the micro." (I love that line - a friend of mine and fellow Bruin said that the other day.) Tasha analyzes every minute detail of her technique, and it shows.

Stacey J., San Francisco, CA: Miss Val, How are the freshmen handling their first season as Bruins? Will they be allowed to compete in the post-season? Does the entire team travel? PS I love this photo of you!
Miss Val: Our freshmen are awesome. They fit in as Bruins from day one. Yes, they will compete in the post-season. They are all doing really well. And, yes they all have been travelling.

D.M., Hungary: Hi Valorie, do you have Hungarian roots? Your name "Kondos" points to that :) Good luck to you and your team!
Miss Val: Hello from UCLA to Hungary. No, I don't have Hungarian roots. I am 100% Greek. Last name was Kondoravthies before my grandfather shortened it coming through Ellis Island. And yes, my poor husband did live "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" when we got married.

Jane (Los Angeles): Why did Tasha have a composition deduction on BB at the Chicago IGI meet? What events will Anna & Comforte be doing for the Georgia & Pac 10 meet? Who will be replacing Brittani (my thoughts go out to her) on each of the 4 events in the lineup?
Miss Val: Tasha's composition deduction was because she didn't show different shapes in her leaps, which is why she now has a wolf jump. We are not certain what Anna and Kristina will be doing this weekend. As far as replacing Brittani goes, training has been going really well this week. Every one of our athletes has stepped it up, really paying attention to details, and are very focused and enthusiastic about being prepared to compete this weekend.

Karen (Los Angeles): I love the webcasts and live video when I can't attend the meets. Is there any chance of the Georgia meet or any of the postseason meets being shown live online? Good luck in the rest of the season!
Miss Val: Georgia will have a live webcast of Saturday's meet. There is a subscription fee of $9.95/month for it, however. But we should have video highlights on our own website early next week. I'm not sure about live webcasts for our post-season meets; TV contracts will likely prevent that.

Megan (Denver, CO): What kind and how much exercise do you encourage the girls to do outside of training?
Miss Val: It depends on their individual needs. All of them do extra cardio, some need extra stretching and/or dance classes, some need extra leg conditioning. If we had more hours to train during the week, I'd incorporate time for hard-core cardio, a ballet/jazz class, and yoga.

Jess (Orange County): There have been a lot of rumors about the floor in Pauley and its relationship to injuries this year. Is this a new floor? Has anything changed with the floor?
Miss Val: Thank you for asking. No, this is not a new floor. It's the same floor we've used the past two years. Nothing has changed with the floor. I could go on and on about all of the beautiful floor routines we've seen performed on this very floor.

San Bernardino: I loved the song that Jordan used for her floor routine. What is the name of the song and who is it by?
Miss Val: It's a Cirque du Soleil song called "Querer".

Christen in Atlanta: Miss Val, Have you ever considered choreographing a floor routine based on yoga? There are so many similarities between yoga moves and gymnastics--I think with the right music and gymnast it could be really innovative. Starting in the cross-legged sukhasana, moving through chaturanga and down dog...perhaps ending in savasana or corpse pose. If anybody could do it and make it look great, it'd be you! Looking forward to seeing you and the team this weekend in Athens!
Miss Val: Thank you for the compliment. A yoga floor routine would certainly be mesmerizing and stunning if done well. In thinking of the athletes I've worked with, I can't think of one of them who was flexible and strong enough to pull something like that off, with the control each position and transition would need. I'm always looking to keep our routines diverse, so I will definitely keep this suggestion in mind. Thank you.

Melissa (Santa Monica): I know you can't make any specific comments about recruits, but I was wondering if our 2009 team might feature some of the girls expected to make the 2008 Olympic team. Is it too early to be in talks with them? It's always fun to cheer for Bruins (past, present and future) in the Olympics.
Miss Val: I can say that our 2008-09 team will have Canadian Olympian hopeful Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs on it. And, yes we are recruiting other Olympic hopefuls.

Christian (Hollywood, CA.): Miss Val, how come you don't post as many "Between The Bars" updates as in years past? It's something I always look forward to reading on this site.. =) And how are the rest of the girls rehabing their injuries? It's extremely devestating to see Brittani go down on the final home meet of the year, but if any team can get through this, I know it's our BRUINS! How is Kristina holding up on beam and floor? Melissa on vault, beam, and floor? Allison on bars and floor, etc and the rest of the girls? Also which girls will sub in for Brittani? Lastly, Miss Val you look so great and classy every time on the sidelines..just wanted to throw that in there. Who are your favorite designers? (awkward question I know) =) Thanks!
Miss Val: Thank you. Honestly, I haven't written more Between the Bars because I feel like I say the same thing over and over. I would actually prefer to do more Q&A's because then I can address what all of you want to know about instead of what I think is important. Give me a meaty subject and I'll write my next BTB on it.

As a result of our last Q&A last week, I had a few people at our meet this past weekend say "Glad to see you're back in your uniform", meaning the white. Regarding favorite designers, I don't have any - although I'll always remember my first suit I bought with my first paycheck as a head coach. It was a classic beige Armani. I spent my whole paycheck on it and wore it all the time. My most favorite white sweaters are either knit by my dear friend and awesome fashion designer, Aida Ley, or ones I've knit from patterns she's written me.


Lydia (Sacramento, CA): Which coach works with each apparatus and what are some of the things you guys tell the girls before they each go up? Are they words of encouragement or is it more technical?
Miss Val: We all give opinions and step in to coach all of the events. However, Jim works mainly on bars. Chris is mainly on vault and floor, although he's on bars a lot and is actually a really good beam coach. And I spend most of my time on beam and giving "Miss Val eyes" (as the girls call them) on the other events when an athlete needs to get more focused. Chris and I coach very similarly with an equal ratio of motivational and technical corrections. It depends more on what the athlete responds to best. Jim is still getting to know the athletes, so he sticks to mostly technical coaching.

Janette - San Bernardino: Miss Val - What are some of the ways you have been addressing some of the problems the team has been having on beam? I'd love to see the Bruins win NCAA's this year and I'm hoping the team will have it down by nationals!!
Miss Val: The ways I address beam is to first address any technical issues. (Example: Marci and I spent a good deal of time yesterday fixing her backhandspring layout. She was pushing the series back too much instead of being patient out of her backhandspring, feeling weight on her back foot, and taking the layout up.) I then have them do A LOT of "dance throughs" to work on their rhythm and poise. And then we'll do some sort of pressure routines, either as a group or individually. To be honest, I've been pleased with how they've worked on beam. Marci has had different falls the past few meets, but her overall poise and performance quality has continued to improve. And Brittani has been getting better and better with controlling her power. Unfortunately, this last meet was her most unsteady performance of the season. We restructured Jordan's routine to take out the tuck jump full and added the three series back in, which she performed beautifully this last meet. I'm pleased to see Anna and Tasha continue to perform with more calm and fluidity. And Ariana has been her usual ROCK. What I don't do is get all over them about "falling". I feel it's better to address the cause rather than the effect.

Claire (Calgary, Canada): what are the rules or requirements regarding your athletes marks in school? Are these set by you? Enjoying the fab season, GO BRUINS
Miss Val: I expect them to be the best students they can be. I don't care about their grades as much as I do their effort. I keep close tabs on their academics through their tutors and counselors. I see that you're from Canada. Two of our all-time best students are Canadians, Kate Richardson and Ashley Peckett. GO CANADA!

Kirsten (Philly): When will we see Talia and Kristina in floor? Talia's routine is taking the hip hop inspired gym-routine to a whole new level. Thanks! PS: The leos at the last meet were gorgeous.
Miss Val: Thanks for the compliment about the leos. I liked them too. Talia's floor routine is awesome, she just needs to get more consistent with her tumbling. And Kristina is hoping to start tumbling again next week (fingers crossed)

Dave (Ithaca, NY): What is the most important quality that you look for in recruiting? Do you feel that the elite level is getting to a point where athletes are too beat up to be able to compete four full college seasons? There has been so much adversity over the past few seasons. What have the last four years taught you as coaches and as people? Has anything surprised you?
Miss Val: The most important quality I look for in a recruit is competitiveness. Regarding the elite level, maybe, but I'd hate to put a blanket statement out there like that. What has the last four years taught me as a coach and person? Wow - that's a good question. I will save this one for my next Between the Bars.

Mark Torrance: Ms. Val Hope everyone recovers to 100% quickly and safely. Pls. update us regarding Anna Li, Ashley Jenkins and Shavahn Church. Will they be ready for the PAC 10 's and nationals. Will we be seeing more of Melissa Chan and the freshmans ? God Bless you and your team.
Miss Val: Thank you for the blessing Mark. Regarding our athletes, Anna's foot is not so good, but all of the tests on it came back negative, so she's cleared to train. We are hoping to get her healthy to compete at Pac-10's. Jenkins and Chan are doing great - look for both of them this weekend. And Shavahn is O.K. Her knee is what's preventing her from doing a more difficult bar dismount and other events.

Jason Arcadia, Ca: Ms. Val, Just curious, is there a team captain this year? If I recall correctly last year was co-captains Ashley Peckett and Michell "OC" Selesky. Will you have one next year? GO BRUINS !
Miss Val: The whole team captain thing baffles me. On the one hand, I like to have them because it enables certain athletes to have more of a voice. And on the other hand, I would hate for anyone to ever feel stifled because they weren't a team captain. That begs the question of who chooses them and how? We've done everything from voting, to having to nominate yourself and say why you think you'd be a good captain, to me appointing them, etc. We don't have team captains this year because the natural order of things worked itself out. If anyone has an opinion about this topic, I'm all ears because I haven't been able to come up with a system that is fair and serves the purpose.

Emma (Leipzig): Will Niki Tom be in at least the beam line up come post-season?
Miss Val: If she is, we all know she'll do a great job. She is a beautiful beam worker.

Worldwide Admirers: How did your "Ms. Val" persona develop? Did you have groupies in ballet class or did that come later?
Miss Val: The name "Miss Val" came about this way: When I first came to UCLA in 1982, the head coach asked me to teach the athletes ballet. Back in the day, you called your ballet teacher "Miss So-and-So". Lisa Taylor, one of the more boisterous athletes on the team said, "So are we supposed to call you Miss Val?" Jokingly, I said, "Yes that would be nice." And voila ... a name is born and has stuck all these years.

Julie - Santa Monica: Hi Miss Val! You do such a great job and it's so nice to see a coach that is more concerned with seeing the girls do well in life much more so than even their gymnastics. Of all the great gymnasts that you've coached, who would you say was the best on each of the four events? Who was the best dancer? Who was the most talented? Who was the easiest to coach? Who overcame the most adversity? Who worked the hardest in the gym everyday? Who best exemplified a "student-athete"? Thanks for answering all these questions and go bruins!
Miss Val: Considering I've been here for 26 years, it's really difficult to answer this question without leaving someone out. Against my better judgement, I'll give it a try. I'm choosing to answer these next questions by responding with the first person that comes to mind. Here goes: Our best vaulter was probably Jeanette Antolin. She received seven perfect scores in a row. Bars was probably Jamie Dantzscher. Beam - Maloney, Kate or Mohini. And floor ... wow - so many to choose from. I'd say Kim Hamilton or Stella Umeh. The best dancer was Kimmy, Stella, or Heidi Moneymaker. Most talented was Jamie Dantzscher, Maloney, or Ariana. Easiest to coach - there are way too many to choose from, but the first person that comes to mind is Kate. Maloney overcame the most adversity. Brittani McCullough worked the hardest in the gym every day. Onnie Willis best exemplified a "student-athlete". My disclaimer to these answers is that the athletes that came to mind were ones from our most recent past that are the most fresh on my mind.

Allison- Lund(Sweden): Hey. i was wondering, since some gymnasts are out on injury, what events are each gymnast competing on now? How many new skills are we planning to see in upcoming meets? and like how are the freshmen doing? and at the moment, how do you feel about NCAA championships? as in are you prepared? and confident? Keep up the amazing work!
Miss Val: Thank you for writing, Allison from Sweden. Please see the answers above to similar questions as yours. As far as the NCAA Championships, I feel we are on track to be prepared and confident irregardless of what our line-up looks like at that time. Thank you for your last line.

Megan (Denver, CO): When a meet is over, what happens back in the lockerroom? Does the team ever get together after a meet to celebrate a win; what kinds of things do you do?
Miss Val: After a meet, we have a short debrief of the meet before we go to dinner. Yes, we always get together after a meet regardless of the outcome. We usually go to a restaurant in Westwood and invite the families and friends.

Kim (Los Angeles): Ms. Val, three of our five would-be all-arounders have gone down this year, in competition, in front of the home crowd, on the same piece of equipment. It looks like we'll get at least two of them back for post season, and we all wish Brittani a full and speedy recovery. But can you shed some light on what's been going on? I suppose we should be safe for the rest of the season, but it's a pattern I hope not to see continue. All the best going in to post-season! Go Bruins!
Miss Val: We all share your sentiment that we hope to not see any more injuries on any teams throughout the country. All athletics is precarious as it pertains to injuries. In 1991, we had three female gymnasts and one male gymnast tear the tendon between their first and second toes ... all in the same season, all on different, simple skills. It's an injury we had never had before and haven't had since. I remember asking our team physician if we needed to do more toe strengthening exercises. As far as "shedding light" - Anna and Kristina just landed their tumbling passes a little low. Both were doing "E" skills that they had successfully completed for many meets in a row. And as far as Brittani's injury, it is her left achilles. She had surgery on her right achilles two years ago. She didn't do anything abnormally incorrect in her tumbling, nor was she having any pain in this achilles, calf or ankle (Often times in our sport, if an athlete is physiologically prone to knee or achilles issues on one leg, they will have issues on the other as well.)

Cara (Calgary, Canada): I have always enjoyed reading about your team and what's going on. I noticed that there hasn't been a behind the bars entry since January. Do you plan to write more entries? Also many programs have a blog entered by one of their athletes, would you ever consider this? thanks for the greatly enjoyed gymnastics. Good Luck!
Miss Val: Please see one of the above responses to a Between the Bars question. Regarding a blog... I don't know. I'm not a fan of blogs unless someone is attempting something incredible such as sailing around the world or climbing Mount Everest. Daily updates on something like that would be interesting and educational. I'm also leery about the repercussions of something that might be spoken out of turn or taken incorrectly on blogs such as what happens on Facebook or MySpace. I might change my mind in the future if I feel it would be educational for someone to read and/or beneficial to our program.

New York: In a sport where there seem to be a lot of problems with eating disorders, how do you address health body image and eating habits with athletes?
Miss Val: We always address fitness as it pertains to our athletes' overall health, how it will affect their gymnastics, and how it will help reduce risk of injury. On the whole, our team eats really healthy and enjoys doing cardio. I've found that if the upper-classmen set a good example of diet and fitness, the younger teammates will follow suit.

Shana, AZ: Hi Bruin coaches! How will you prepare the team for the giant Gymdog crowd in Georgia? Do you play loud music or crowd noise during the practices? The Bruins need to stay in the zone, but still have fun! Go Bruins!
Miss Val: All of our teams have never had a problem competing in an environment like that. If anything, it pumps them up. I can guarantee that we'll stay in the zone and have fun. Our team is really looking forward to this weekend.

Don - Pasadena: First I want to say how much my wife and I enjoy coming out to the meets and seeing all your energy and enthusiasm! It was sad to see Brittani get hurt and then 3rd place last week, but this is a new week and a win in Georgia would be awesome! Ok now with the question, I am an avid runner and I even ran the LA Marathon then zipped over for the meet 2 weeks ago, do any of you incorporating running in your training? thanks good luck!
Miss Val: Some of the girls do like to run, but so many of them have lower extremity pain that we don't encourage it and often have to tell them that they can't run. Most of them love to run the perimeter of the school. Who wouldn't love running in Beverly Hills and Bel Air in beautiful Southern California weather? But it's really not that good for their bodies. We'd prefer they get cardio in on a more forgiving surface.

Liza, Los Angeles: Do the parents get to travel with the team to away meets? Will the Bruins have more than four home meets next year? My daughters are very sad that the season is almost over already. Please give our best wishes to Brittani, Anna, Kristina and any other injured Bruins...have a speedy recovery. Best of luck in Georgia. Go Bruins!
Miss Val: Obviously we don't pay for the parents to travel, but many of them do join us on the road, and join us for our team dinners after the meets. Yes, we will have five home meets next year. This season we cancelled our first home meet against ASU for a variety of reasons. Thanks for bringing your daughters to our meets. I hope they enjoy them.

Krista (Sherman Oaks): It seems like mental mistakes come in twos - either two girls fall on the same event or one girl will fall twice in the same competition. How do you get past the mental block of a fall so that everyone can move past it without letting nerves get in the way?
Miss Val: That is the million dollar question and something that I'm certain every team works on. We do a lot of mental training to prepare each athlete to perform to their best ability regardless of the circumstances. Like any other sport, gymnastics is easy when everything is working well, when your teammates are hitting, when you're getting scores you feel you deserve, when your body feels great, when the crowd's into it, etc. The real question is what happens when one or all of these factors are working against you? When an athlete can still perform to her best ability through unplanned adversity, that's a mentally disciplined athlete.

Sean from Los Angeles: How do you determine who will be in the lineup for each apparatus? Do you take into consideration who has been consistant in prior meets?
Miss Val: Yes - we do take consistency into account. We also look at who's healthy, who needs some experience, and who can help us win.

Brooke from Encino, CA: How does the team plan to bounce back and earn a high score after a tough loss this past Sunday? What do you think it will take to beat Georgia?
Miss Val: On Sunday night, after we had all gone home from the team dinner, Brittani McCullough sent out a text to everyone on the team and staff. It read something like this: "Hey Bruins! Thank you for all of your love, thoughts, and prayers! I love you all! Post-season is almost here. You all are amazing and ready to do awesome! Rest up, and I'll see you on Tuesday. GO BRUINS!" The next day everyone was talking about the awesome message from Brittani. I believe it was the inertia for our "bounce". Our goal this weekend is to hit 24 for 24.

Lori from Los Angeles: Does the team watch a video of their past meet to determine what skills on each apparatus need improvement for the next meet?
Miss Val: Yes, we watch film almost every week. And we have an instant replay system in our gym so the athletes can constantly analyze their technique.

Jill, Los Angeles: I'm a huge fan and love coming to the meets. Sometimes I notice 8 people warming up on floor during the 3 minute touch. Then there are the six that compete, and sometimes there's an exhibition and sometimes there isn't. Are the lineups set before the warmups or do you decide who competes during that 3 minutes? By the way-I love the floor routines this year!
Miss Val: Sometimes we warm up 8 people because we don't know if we'll need to change the line-up due to nagging injuries such as Ari's leg, or Anna's foot, etc. Sometimes we have one person warm up who is an alternate and another who is the exhibition. (This is easier to do on floor than the other events because more than one person can warm up at a time.) And sometimes an athlete will warm up floor just to show us she's ready to come in ... I always love that!

Kelly (Benton, IL): Who do you think will be healthy enough to compete in the post season and what events will they be able to perform on at full strength?
Miss Val: We're hoping to have our top 5 in the all-around. Kristina is going to start tumbling this next week. And Chan and Jenkins are fully ready to come in now. Plus, we have Natalie on vault and our freshmen ready on the other events. If we can compete this line-up, we're still a great team that can contend in the Championship season.

Betsy (Boston): Hi Bruins! I am wondering two things: how much attention, if any, do you pay to the rankings, both individual and team? Is it a motivating factor for the gymnasts, and if so, is it something you talk about? Also, anything specific you are doing to get prepare for the post-season? Do practices and/or meet strategy change at this point in the season. Thanks, and good luck!
Miss Val: Regarding rankings, yes we do pay attention to them and talk about them with our team. It tends to fire them up. In preparation for post-season, we really try to scale our training down to individual needs and zero in on what each athlete needs to be healthy and best prepared to compete. We do A LOT of visualization of routines, a lot of dance-throughs on beam, stick drills, and actually a lot of basics and timers for skills. Less pounding, more basics and mental.


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