As I left the UCLA Women’s Gymnastics team’s recent “Meet The Team” event at the John Wooden Center, which is essentially a fan appreciation day, I was convinced that this team can be something special and achieve great things this upcoming season.
Led by coach Valorie Kondos Field – also known as Miss Val – who is beginning her 22nd season at the helm, these Bruins, who will start 2012 as the top-ranked team in the country, have arguably been the most successful sport on campus in winning six national championships since 1997, including four in a five-year span from 2000-2004, and finishing second to Alabama last year by a very close margin.
That has undoubtedly motivated the young ladies on this year’s Bruins squad, which is – to put it quite simply – loaded as so many of these athletes have outstanding resumes that’s it’s difficult for me to figure out where to start, but I’ll give it a go…
Vanessa Zamarripa, who tore her Achilles’ tendon a year ago and missed the 2011 campaign, is back and raring to go. She was a key in the Bruins’ 2010 NCAA title run by winning the vault championship at the Nationals that year, and consistently scoring in the 9.9s all season. Many have said that had the blueshirt junior (the team refuses to use the term redshirt) been healthy in 2011, UCLA would have beaten Alabama and won their 7th national championship.
Here is a link to a clip of her doing her floor exercise routine:
Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, a senior from Toronto, has been outstanding throughout her Bruin career as she’s a returning first team All American in the uneven parallel bars and in the all around, as well as winning all Pac-10 honors in the all-around for the second time last season. Along with fellow seniors Kaelie Baer and All-Americans Tauny Frattone and Aisha Gerber, who’s the reigning Pac-10 co-champion on bars and was the NCAA runner up on that apparatus in 2011, Hopfner-Hibbs’ leadership will be counted upon.
This is a video clip of Hopfner-Hibbs’ floor exercise routine, an event in which she is especially dynamic:
Another returning All-American on bars, Monique DeLaTorre, who scored a 9.825 or better in 11 out of 13 attempts on that apparatus in 2011, is along with Zamarippa one of four outstanding juniors, the others being Alyssa Prichett and Lichelle Wong.
Olivia Courtney and Samantha Peszek, who won the NCAA balance beam title last year and is the go-to lady on that apparatus, lead the sophomores as they are both All-Americans (they just seem to come from everywhere with this team!)
Courtney won Pac-10/12 Freshman of the Year honors last season, is the reigning Pac-10/12 champion on vault and bars, and won the all around at the NCAA Athens (GA) Regional with a score of 39.5, while Peszek merely has a silver medal from the 2008 Olympics, being on the U.S. team that came in second in Beijing, and winning team gold at the 2007 World Championships and the 2007 Pan-American Games.
Not only that, the 5′ 1″ Indianapolis native scored a 9.8 or better in 20 out of 22 attempts for the Bruins last year.
These clips of Courtney and Peszek at the 2011 Pac-10 Championships should convince fans of their prowess:
Kondos Field is known for bringing in top-notch freshman classes, and playing them right away. This year is no exception as this crop of newbies boasts two U.S. National Team members, Cassie Whitcomb and Mattie Larson.
Whitcomb was on the U.S. team for four years, while Larson won team silver at the 2010 Worlds and the floor exercise at the U.S. nationals, was on the U.S. team from 2007-10, and finished 7th in the Olympic Trials in 2008, barely missing making the Olympic team and going to Beijing.
Here’s Larson on the uneven bars at a meet in 2010:
As one can see, there’s much talent in these gymnasts, and much for Bruin Nation to look forward to with this team, starting on January 8th when they take on fifth-ranked Utah, which has always been a rival and will be more of one now that they have joined the Pac-12, at the John Wooden Center.
Here’s my prediction of how things will go with Miss Val’s young ladies:
As was said, this team is not only loaded and deep, but motivated by their close loss to Alabama at the NCAA’s last year.
That will be the main factor as these Bruin gymnasts have a more than excellent shot to win their seventh national championship this season, if they stay healthy.
Avoiding injuries will be a key with this team, but don’t be surprised in the least if these Bruins hoist the trophy, and raise a banner saying “2012 NCAA Champions”, in April.
Personally, this band of sisters has become one of my favorite teams at UCLA, if not the favorite, and I’m very much looking forward to watching them this season.
I strongly suggest checking out a meet this season. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.