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Ask The Bruins: 2008 Gymnastics Team
Courtesy: UCLA Athletics  
Release:  10/18/2007
Members of the 2008 UCLA Gymnastics team answered questions from the fans for the first Ask the Bruins Q&A session of the school year. Read below to see if your question was answered.

Randi, Los Angeles, CA: How have all the new freshmen impacted the team so far?
Miss Val: Our freshmen are amazing. I feel like we say this every year, but this year's class is truly exceptional. They are extremely assiduous in their academic studies as well as gymnastics. I hear them discuss their schoolwork all the time with each other, as in wondering why they only got an A- on their chemistry exam instead of an A. As far as their impact in the gym, they continue to ignite our daily training with their sheer enthusiasm and ineffable work ethics. It will be fun to watch them continue to improve throughout the season, both with their physical gymnastics as well as their mental game.
Brittani McCullough: The new freshmen have been a great addition to our team. They all came in pumped and ready to go. They are all very excited and ready to win a national championship this year. Their skills are great, and they work very hard. The freshmen have added to our motivation.

Shona, England (UK): In what ways does life as a bruin live up to your expectations, and in what ways does it exceed them?
Anna Li: Being a Bruin has such an incredible meaning to me. Being a part of the UCLA athletics family is more than I ever expected. Becoming a part of the gymnastics team was something I always dreamed of since I was little. I feel proud to be able to help represent UCLA athletically and be a part of such a close athletic family. I never knew that I would be joining the school that would be the first to win 100 National Championship titles! Not only just for athletics, but academically I have the opportunity to study and graduate from one of the top schools in the nation. Also, meeting John Wooden and being able to ask him questions and receive advice from him is such an inspiration for me to strive for my goals and continue a road to success. Being a bruin has so much to offer to me. It's something I will keep with me for the rest of my life, and I couldn't be more proud to be a Bruin! Lets do an 8-clap!!
Ashley Jenkins: It lives up to my expectations in that I was always really excited about the team aspect of gymnastics coming into college. What has exceeded my expectations is the freedom you get on floor to be creative in dance, which is really exciting for me because I love to dance. I never had that opportunity in elite gymnastics.

Amanda, Toronto, Ontario: Marci, I can only guess that you chose not to defer enrolment to UCLA due to Canada not qualifying as a team to 2008 Olympics. Are you still considering trying to qualify as one of the individual spots for next year's games? Or are you now focused on College Gymnastics Experience?
Marci Bernholtz: At this point I am all about the team. I want to be as big of a contributor as I can be and help our team win a national title. As for Elite gymnastics, it's not the main priority right now.

John (Riverton): Can you give us an update on how everybody is doing health-wise? Who all had surgery and how are they coming along? What is the time-frame if anyone is still recovering? How healthy are the freshmen? Thanks!
Miss Val: This is a great week for me to answer this question. While most of our top athletes are only able to train floor or vault every other day, I am ecstatic to report that Kristina, Ariana, Brittani, and Melissa, all of whom had major surgeries last year, are all making their way back onto all four events. Just this week, they all have been able to vault a bit and tumble on the rod floor. It is so much fun having them train with us again. All of them are such "warriors", that their "Bring it on" spirit easily permeates through the rest of the team and coaching staff.

Sky Lee (North Hills): Niki Tom, how is it being a Bruin?
NiKi Tom: Being a Bruin is simply amazing! At times I still have to pinch myself to remind myself that I am really here as a Bruin! I have never been happier in my life! I am so thankful to have been given this great opportunity, for it is priceless. Words cannot express just how rewarding and wonderful it is to be a part of such a great program.

Jackie Los Angeles, CA: Are any of the freshman likely to end up being an AA gymnast at some point this year? It seems impossible with such a deep upper class group like Tasha, Jordan, Ari, Melissa, Christina, and Anna.
Miss Val: I would imagine that Niki Tom, Mizuki Sato, and Marci Bernholtz will compete as all-arounders throughout the season. If Talia's back holds up, she can be a solid competitor in the all-around as well. Allison Taylor, sadly, is back in a walking boot for the foot she fractured last year. We're hoping she'll be able to compete on 2 to 3 events for us this season.

Bear (De Neve): I am such a big fan ladies... In pre-season has there been an undeniable feeling within the team that this is the year we are going to get back to the top and win the national championship?!
Jordan Schwikert: Our team this year has the talent, determination, poise and potential to creep up from behind and be in that one and only top spot that every team wants. But the Bruins not only want that Natty, we are hungry to go and GET that Natty. No more of the Lil' Bruins that could ... All I'm going to say is watch out! I'm just "keepin' it real" (team motto)
Natalie Padilla: Definitely! We have all been working so hard and have so much motivation every single day in the gym. The chemistry of this team is unreal. We are so excited to get out there and show everybody what we got!

Stephanie (Long Beach): I have heard many times how it is difficult to transition into a setting where there is a cap on the number of hours per week you can train. How do you decide (as a team or as an individual) which events or skills to work on during a particular training session without neglecting other parts of a routine or over-all strength and conditioning ?
Miss Val: It is more difficult for the student-athletes to adjust to shorter training time than it is for us Coaches to manage our training time. We obviously have to be very efficient. We actually spend a tremendous amount of time on conditioning and body positioning exercises, which helps in teaching and maintaining skills. We also stress the power of the mind A LOT. If the athlete is going to have far less repetitions during their training, then every turn has to count. When you're training more correct repetitions, it aids with building good muscle memory and confidence.
Melissa Chan: It is a difficult transition into not being able to train as many hours as in club gymnastics, but it definitely makes you make every second in practice count. We, as a team have to be consistent and work diligently, not wasting a second in practice. A normal practice includes warm-up, a little conditioning to warm up our bodies, events, and then conditioning and stretching at the end of practice. The main difference with our workouts are that you cannot waste one turn, and we have to make everything count.

Tammi, Woodland Hills, CA: Niki, when did you first begin dreaming of being a Bruin gymnast?
NiKi Tom: Representing UCLA as a Bruin Gymnast has been a dream of mine every since I attended my first UCLA Gymnastics meet, which was when I was 9 or 10 years old. After the meets, while waiting in line to get my posters signed by the team, my dad would face me towards the floor and say, "well NiK, this could be you in the years to come!" Ever since then, the dream of becoming a UCLA Gymnast has been my drive and motivation. Anything and everything about UCLA brought/brings a smile to my face. I instantly knew that UCLA was the place I wanted to be! Being a member of the team is literally a dream come true!!! What more could a girl ask for: an amazing, loving, dedicated team and athletic department and phenomenal academics! In addition, my entire family bleeds blue and gold! I had dreamed of being a Bruin since I can remember. It's the perfect fit!

Kristi (Reseda): I was looking forward to seeing Janelle Dantzscher compete this season. I noticed her name is not on the roster anymore. Did she retire from gymnastics?
Miss Val: Yes, Janelle is no longer doing gymnastics but is finishing her education at UCLA.

Jackie Los Angeles, Ca: What's Marshall Nelson doing these days as a performer?
Miss Val: Marshall is going to a lot of auditions and has gotten a lot of shorter gigs as an aerialist.

TJ Laird Jr (North Hollywood): First, welcome to the new team members! My question is - Do you ever stop, reflect, and think WOW when you realize that you are a beautiful athletically talented young lady that is attending one of the greatest universities on the face of the earth, having Miss Val as your coach/friend/mentor, being on Coach John Wooden's favorite "other" team, plus having the potential for being part of a National Championship year after year? Thank you for your dedication and hard work!
Mizuki Sato: TJ, I've been thinking WOW every other second since I've arrived on campus! I'm incredibly thankful and fortunate to be a part of such an awesome team and school. The academics here are world-class, and athletically, it's inspirational to be able to train alongside with some of the best athletes in the US and the world. Miss Val is an amazing person, and I'm blessed to have been given the opportunity to contribute to this team. Here at UCLA, we are surrounded by so much tradition, and it's a great feeling. I couldn't see myself anywhere else.

Jill (Los Angeles): I love reading the blogs/updates that other universities are doing about their team! Any chance we may see more regular updates from our beloved Bruins????? Please.
Miss Val: We will be offering more updates and more Question and Answers. As for blogs - I know it's all the rage, I guess living so close to Hollywood, it seems a bit excessive knowing the daily highs and lows of an individual or a team. Every time I switch on one of the TV magazine shows I really can't believe that every minutiae of information on the same people is being discussed. Is it just me? (Wow - I'm feeling really old right now.) I also am not going to discuss any team "dirt", so reporting on only the good things all the time doesn't feel sincere. Feel free to e-mail our sports information director, Liza David, at any time if you have a specific question you'd like answered. Or... pop on by the gym. We have an open gym policy.

Delaney (Toronto): How is life in LA different than life in your hometown?
Marci Bernholtz: LA is different then home for me. The city itself is bigger and has a lot more people than Unionville. In a way though, it is similar because the campus environment allows you to get to know a lot of people and becomes its own little hometown. I haven't really gone into downtown LA too much, so Westwood has really become my new home. I love it here and am meeting so many great people. Everyone is very welcoming and friendly, which is really great.

Hillary (St. Cronick, Ohio): Are any of you small-town or country girls like me, finding life at a major, busy college a big adjustment? What are the best parts of being at a big school?
Allison Taylor: Well, I'm not really from a "country town" but LA is very different from Dallas. The city is just always alive, something is always going on, and there are people everywhere! The best part of being at a big university is the fact that there IS always somehting going on. You don't ever have time to be bored!

Mr. UCLA Olympic Sports Guy (O.C.): Do you have any special techniques you utilize to help you compete in difficult "away" meets with crowd support for the other team(s)? Do you feel that crowd support either way makes a difference, and should the fans be quiet during a routine as has been traditional or can cheering be acceptable at any time for college gymnastics? Thank you and best of luck in 2008!
Miss Val: Our UCLA teams have always loved the energy of a big crowd. Even if they are cheering for us to make a mistake, it has always fueled our athletes' focus and fire versus distracting them.

Helen: What is your favourite class at UCLA?
Talia Kushynksi: My favorite class, is Calculus. (believe it or not!) Math has always been my favorite subject in school.
Mizuki Sato: Hi, Helen, I would have to say that my favorite class at UCLA right now is my English Composition class. Our theme for the class is screwball comedy, so it's pretty fun watching all the old black and white movies.
Allison Taylor: My favortie class at UCLA right now is my Psych 10 class. It is really interesting to learn about how the brain works and why we do the things we do.
NiKi Tom: It is difficult for me to say what my favorite course at UCLA is considering the fact that we are only in week 4. If gymnastics was a class, training would without a doubt be my ultimate favorite. As for now I do not have a favorite class, but I am looking forward to taking various physiology classes in the future.

Lindsey((Redondo Beach)): This question is for the whole team, what new vaults other then yurchenko fulls will be competed and what new floor passes will some gymnasts compete
Miss Val: Vaults - Ashley Jenkins will be competing a Yurchenko 1/2 on front, or front half off. Tasha, Brittani, and Comforte are all training Yurchenko 1 1/2's, and doubles, however ... there still is not the incentive to compete these vaults unless it's in vault finals, or the athlete actually lands them better than the ubiquitous Yurchenko full.

John Tustin, CA: What are the most difficult skills or combinations being done by the Bruin team?
Jim Foody: It is really tough to choose just one thing because the team is doing some amazing gymnastics. But one of our best combinations is being done by Brittani McCullough on bars. She does a Shaposhnikova - uprise free hip to handstand - toe-on Tkatchev - immediate shootover. It is a really tough combination and looks even more impressive because of Brittani's explosive power.

Michael (New York): Tasha: Are you keeping your options open for another run at the Olympics? Tasha: Any upgrades or changes to your routines this year from last year's NCAAs? Coach Val: Any updates on upgrades or new skills from each athlete? Which athletes look particularly strong for the preseason and may be anchoring events come the season?
Tasha Schwikert: I am certainly hoping to be at the Olympic Games next year, but ... not as an athlete. Currently, I have been developing my next career as a sports broadcaster/commentator and hopefully will be attending the Games as an intern with a TV network. As far as my routines for the upcoming season are concerned, I probably will be making a few changes in skill selection. It's my senior year ... I gotta keep it fresh!

Thank you for all your interest and support in UCLA Gymnastics!!! Go Bruins!

Miss Val: Upgrades, let's see, I just discussed vault. On bars we've got a plethora of upgraded skills being trained. (Don't you just love that word "plethora"?) Jordan's dismount, a full-twisting double back. Tasha is working tkatchev/immediate Pak salto, and a double layout full-out dismount. Ariana is working on a double-twisting double back dismount. Anna Li has learned a double layout full-out dismount, as has Niki Tom. Actually, right now, Niki's is the best one in the gym. On beam, we're just playing with different combinations of front and back flips and trying to get beam routines choreographed, along with the floor routines. And on floor, Ariana is training a half-in half-out, Tasha's training a double layout, and Jordan is training her double Arabian again as well as 2 1/2 twist. Anna Li is hoping to compete a full-in for the first time ever. And they're all training a variety of flipping and twisting front combinations.

Lynn (Woodland Hills): This question is for Ariana Berlin. Ariana, how is training different now that the rod has been removed from your leg?
Ariana Berlin: Now that the rod has been removed from my leg, the difference in training is that I CAN train! Before the surgery, I was unable to do any pounding on my leg in practice. The only reason I was able to compete was because my body ran off adrenaline.

Mario: To the coach, What happend to Ashley Postell, why was she not welcomed at UCLA. She would have helped a lot. She is one of the top girls in the sport. Can you explain?
Miss Val: Ashley Postell was absolutely welcome to UCLA. It just didn't work out. And yes, she is one of the best athletes / performers in our sport.

Jason (LA): Kristina, how has your body healed from the injuries you had last year? Can we expect to see you back strong in the all-around, just like your freshman year? Can't wait to see you girls at the home meets this year!
Kristina Comforte: We are really excited for our meets this year, so we can't wait to see you out there in the stands! You can definitely expect me to be back in the all-around this year. My body is pretty much all healed, and I have been rehabbing like crazy since last year. I'm finally training all events again and also training very wisely, so by the time season comes I will be healthy and ready to go.

San Jose, Ca: Ms. Val What event do you think will be your strongest this year and why? Also, which event do you think you have the best line up and why? thank you, Maria
Miss Val: I think we're going to be a much stronger beam team this year with Comforte and Brittani back in the line-up. Niki, Mizuki and Marci will all be vying for a spot on beam as well. Actually, with Comforte, Brittani and Chan all back in the line-up, we're going to be stronger on every event. Our freshmen will ALL add to the elusive depth we've been missing the past few years.

Katrina Villegas Chatsworth, CA: Niki! I love you! I'm so proud of you!
NiKi Tom: I love you so much Trini-baby!!! Thanks for the support...you're the best!!!

Karen (Los Angeles): Good luck for the 2008 season - I am looking forward to it! Are any current team members training for the 2008 Olympics?
Miss Val: Anna Li and Brittani McCullough might train for Worlds after the Olympics.

Andrea, Boston, MA: What does a typical workout/practice consist of for you?
Miss Val: Our workouts are a lot of energy. A lot of focus, hard work and fun. Loud music, which I keep turning down and somehow the volume keeps miraculously going up. Fighting over hip hop vs country music, until I put on my favorite, India.Arie. As far as training structure, we warm-up, stretch and condition for an hour. Then 45 minutes per event, three events a day. Then strength conditioning for 30 - 45 minutes ... stretch and go to class. On lighter days, we warm-up and do "body shaping" exercises for an hour then let them go to the event or skill that they individually need the most work on.

Stuart (Los Angeles): Ariana, How would you compare this year's UCLA team to your previous UCLA teams, and how are you feeling? Thanks for being such an inspiration!
Ariana Berlin: The team this year has got to be the most exciting! There is so much energy in the gym, and the freshmen are amazing! Everyone is determined and hard-working.

As for me ... I'm feeling GREAT! I just started tumbling and vaulting for the first time in 5 months, and to be able to actually train is surreal to me! This is going to be an amazing year!


Chatsworth: Niki, how does UCLA gymnastics compare with JAG gymnastics?
NiKi Tom: Training with UCLA is very different from JAG gymnastics. Not only do we have less coached training hours due to NCAA rules, but we are also given a greater amount of independence and responsibility. UCLA Gymnastics is extremely reliant on the team, as a whole, rather than the individual athlete. In addition, I have discovered that our training is more rigorous, but in a different sense than club gymnastics. In college gymnastics one's health is the most important, and therefore all of the coaches are extremely aware of how their athletes are feeling. Also in club, training was all about numbers, while at UCLA the mentality is quality not quantity. I have never loved gymnastics more than I do at the moment. I truly hope that every gymnast has the opportunity to experience college gymnastics.

Kareene in LA: Hello! My question is... what has been the sweetest surprise for you in the gym since training has begun this year?
Chris Waller: Kareene, the greatest surprise in the gym this year has been our entire freshman class. The freshmen earned great respect from their coaches and teammates within days of arriving on campus. Almost immediately, the freshmen proved hard-working, self-reliant, self-confident, communicative and fun. The coaches and veterans all felt that the freshmen were like upperclassmen because of the way they completely embraced the program while helping to push it further. With five girls from our team of 14 being newbies, we knew that they would have an enormous impact on the culture of the team; we couldn't be happier with the impact that they have had.


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