Jan. 4, 2010
The 2009 season may be history, but the lessons learned from that year are not likely to be forgotten and have been serving as an impetus for 2010 since the day the team's season ended back in April.
A devastating loss by three-quarters of a tenth in a tiebreaker at the NCAA team preliminaries has served as not only a motivator but as a reminder that in gymnastics, every little thing counts. As a result, the Bruins worked extra hard over the preseason to prepare for the 2010 season, paying specific attention to detail and mental training.
Another intangible the Bruins have going for them is experience. The 2009 squad was underclassman heavy, with freshmen and sophomores competing over 80% of the team's routines, and the freshman class alone contributing to over 50% of the performances. UCLA returns all but one competitor from last year's squad and adds a strong freshman class in addition to the return of several competitors who were limited in action last year due to injuries.
"Our 2010 season started the day after we lost that tiebreaker at the NCAA Championships," said UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field. "Every single one of the student-athletes made the commitment to learn from the experience and understand that every little thing counts in gymnastics. They worked diligently during the offseason and preseason on new skills, on mental training, and on strength and flexibility. There's definitely a hunger, a drive and an enthusiastic purpose within this team that will fuel them throughout the season."
Leading the 2010 Bruins is the team's lone senior, Anna Li, who has made big strides in the preseason after an injury-riddled 2009 that limited her to mostly uneven bars. Li is back in the all-around picture for her final season and has shown marked improvement in many facets of her gymnastics. The five-time All-American is one of the nation's best on uneven bars, is very consistent and graceful on balance beam and has a stunning new floor exercise routine that is sure to earn high marks. Li is capable of 9.9+ scores on all four events and has a high of 9.975 on uneven bars and 39.6 in the all-around.
Redshirt junior Brittani McCullough, who had season-ending injuries in both 2007 and 2008, was incredibly successful in her first full season of competition. She hit all 30 routines she competed without a fall and earned first-team All-America honors on floor exercise, in addition to second-team All-Pac-10 acclaim on vault. Her dynamic floor exercise routine returns for another season and with upgraded tumbling. She also has worked on upgrades on uneven bars with a new release move, a toe-on Tkatchev.
The heart of the team may lie in the junior class. The "Fab Five" are strong leaders both in and out of the gym.
Former walk-on Niki Tom blossomed into a second-team All-American on floor and a first-team All-Pac-10 performer on beam last season. She posted career-high numbers of 9.9 on beam and 9.875 on floor.
One of the team's most consistent performers last year was All-Pac-10 performer Mizuki Sato, who competed in every meet on floor and in all but one meet on vault. She averaged over 9.825 on vault and over 9.75 on floor. She also worked hard to earn a spot in the postseason lineup on beam and recorded a career-high 9.85 at the NCAA Championships.
Marci Bernholtz continues to get stronger on both bars and beam. The former Canadian National Team member and World Championships competitor holds career-best marks of 9.875 on beam and 9.8 on bars.
Allison Taylor and Talia Kushynski have been working on upgrades to their routines, with Taylor learning an Arabian double front half-out dismount on uneven bars and Kushynski making upgrades on her floor and beam tumbling. Both could see increased action this season with these skills.
Last season's freshman class was big in size and stature, and they did not disappoint with their contributions. The freshmen ended up competing over 50% of the team's routines last year and have the potential to compete even more this year.
Vanessa Zamarripa made the biggest splash with her three perfect 10s on vault and third-place all-around finish at the NCAA Championships. She earned the maximum five All-America honors, becoming only the sixth Bruin in history to achieve that honor. The top-ranked vaulter in the nation last year returns in 2010 armed with an even more impressive vault - a layout Podkopayeva that is world-class. Zamarripa is far from a vault specialist, however. She has career-highs of 9.9 or better on all four events and set a career-high of 39.575 in the all-around at the NCAA Championships.
Canadian Olympian and World medalist Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs had an equally impressive freshman season, winning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors and earning four All-America awards. She competed 50 of a possible 52 routines on the year and was second on the team with 11 individual victories and 30 Top 3 finishes. Hopfner-Hibbs posted career-bests of 9.95 on vault and floor, 9.925 on beam, 9.875 on bars and 39.525 in the all-around.
Aisha Gerber also played a big role in the Bruins' success last year, competing regularly on all four events. She earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors on beam, where she anchored the team, and had season-bests of 9.925 on bars, beam and floor and 9.9 on vault. Her all-around high was 39.55.
Kaelie Baer contributed most on vault and floor last year, earning high marks of 9.85 on both events. She also saw some action on balance beam and earned a high of 9.8 in an exhibition performance.
Tauny Frattone looks strong on all four events heading into the 2010 season after sitting out most of 2009 with injuries. She did see action on vault in three meets and scored a high of 9.875 with her difficult Yurchenko half-on, piked front off vault.
Walk-ons Alyssa Pritchett and Tiffany Hyland look to contribute on their specialties. Pritchett is a vault and floor specialist who has shown top difficulty, including a layout Tsukahara vault on which she has scored a 9.8. Hyland is an uneven bars specialist who placed third in the all-around at the 2008 South African National Championships.
The freshmen are led by two-time Dutch national champion Lichelle Wong and JO National Team member Monique De La Torre. Wong comes to UCLA with the most experience amongst the freshmen, having competed in a pair of World Championships, in addition to several World Cup competitions and the European Championships. Her big-meet experience and her world-class uneven bars routine will serve her well in NCAA competition. De La Torre has already shown to be a fierce competitor during intrasquad competitions in the preseason. She is a former international elite who competed at the 2005 USA Championships and earned a spot on the 2008 JO National Team after placing fourth in the all-around at Level 10 Nationals.
"We're really looking forward to this season," Kondos Field asserted. "With so many of our younger competitors returning better than ever, and with the addition of a talented, competitive and disciplined freshman class, our future is right now. This team has the talent, the drive, and the passion to succeed, and I think we're going to see some great things from this group."
The team opens the season with a bang on Jan. 9 with a dual meet against preseason No. 2 Utah, the team that edged the Bruins out of the Super Six. The Bruins, who are ranked No. 5 in the preseason, also compete against No. 1 Georgia on the road on Mar. 6 and face Top 10 Pac-10 opponents in No. 7 Stanford (Jan. 24 at Stanford, Feb. 14 at UCLA) and No. 10 Oregon State (Feb. 21 at UCLA).