UCLA Gymnastics: The perfect start to a perfect season

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 21: The UCLA women's gymnastics team cheers ahead of a PAC-12 meet against Arizona State at Pauley Pavilion on January 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 21: The UCLA women's gymnastics team cheers ahead of a PAC-12 meet against Arizona State at Pauley Pavilion on January 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images) /

There is nothing that could happen that could ruin this season for the UCLA Gymnastics squad. Not when Valerie Kondos-Field is in charge, especially in her farewell season.

The No. 2 UCLA Gymnastics team (5-0) is starting this season off with a bang. Who knew that this is where the Bruins would be in a season wrapped in emotion and farewell? But how did they get here?

It all started last spring when the Bruins won the National Championship in a surprise come from behind victory that was sparked by a Perfect 10 from Peng Peng Lee. It was a moment that brought tears to the eyes of even the toughest Bruin and for all intents and purposes, that Bruin was Valerie Kondos-Field, the UCLA gymnastics coach who has been an inspiration to many. Both of the floor and off.

It was back in 2014 when Kondos-Field, who is regarded as one of the best gymnastics coaches of all time, was diagnosed with breast cancer and began the biggest fight she would ever be involved in. It was a life-changing event that only made her better and stronger. She eventually beat the disease which gave her a new perception of life. It would also help her to continue to excel with number one passion.

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Since she took over for the Bruins in 1991, she has won seven national championships, though it seemed like the title they captured in 2018 was the pinnacle of her career. The thing is, the way this season is starting, that title could serve as the intro to something greater.

Miss Val, as she is known throughout the UCLA ranks, has said that the 2019 season would be the final as coach of the UCLA gymnastics team. As harrowing as this news was to Bruins fans, Miss Val has been anything but. Instead, her final season is one to celebrate.

Last fall, before the start of her final season, Kondos-Field released a book entitled Life is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance. It was a book that chronicled her path from ballerina to one of the greatest gymnastics coaches to walk the Earth. Not only did it give insight to her coaching prowess, but served as a reminder that even in the face of death, we still have a lot to fight, fight, fight for.

It set the stage for what has started out to be a perfect start to a perfect season. No matter the outcome, this was going to be a season UCLA gymnastics celebrates.

Now I am not saying that the Bruins are going to run through this season undefeated, because even if UCLA loses the rest of their meets, it will not take away from what Miss Val has instilled in her team, her school and a fanbase that absolutely adores her.

But the way the Bruins have started the season, it looks as if they have something to prove and want to send Miss Val out with a bang.

The UCLA gymnastics team has had three meets to start the 2019 season and has dominated all of them. Last week, the Bruins went viral behind Katelyn Ohashi who broke the internet with her perfect 10 floor routine. It was such an inspiration that it garnered applause from a Super Bowl Champion, a Congresswoman, and several well-known sports figures.

Going viral is nothing new with UCLA, but the video of Ohashi’s performance was something a UCLA sports program has not seen before. The tweet that produced the video (which you can see below) has over 10,000 comments, has been retweeted over 174,000 times, and has over 718,000 likes. As for the video itself, it has been viewed nearly 42,000,000 times.

The thing about the performance, at least from my perspective, is not that it was perfect. The thing about her performance that stood out was the smile on her Ohashi’s face. She could not stop smiling. She was elated. She was confident. She was perfect. She was just doing what Miss Val had taught her to do.

That is the biggest thing for me. Miss Val’s influence on these young athletes. Not only is she developing them into the best gymnasts in the land, but she is creating amazing human beings. But perfection has not stopped there.

This past Monday, UCLA had their first meet since Ohashi’s performance went viral. The Bruins were playing host to Arizona State and it was a big deal as 10,720 fans packed into Pauley Pavilion to see what all the buzz was about (by comparison, the UCLA basketball team’s attendance in their last home game was only 9,045). With the UCLA faithful in full effect, the Bruins did not disappoint.

Again, UCLA had several amazing performances which was headlined by Kyla Ross who won the all-around for the third consecutive meet. But UCLA fans were also treated to another perfect 10. This time it was Madison Kocian’s turn for perfection as she killed it on the uneven bars.

Look at how her teammates respond. They were ecstatic with her routine. This shows that the squad is all about the team but more importantly, they are having fun doing it. Again, that is the influence of Miss Val.

But even after another great performance, the coach wouldn’t be a coach if she didn’t see any flaws in her team. After the meet, MIss Val said, “Well, it wasn’t a perfect meet by any means, but for the third meet of the season, I am really super proud of them. Because this is kind of like when you take a lull, especially coming after the high from last week.”

Never satisfied and always chasing perfection. That is the mark of a good, nay, great coach.

With so much surrounding the disparity of UCLA’s revenue sports (which looks like they are finally on the up and up), it is such a breath of fresh air to see a Bruins squad perform to the best of their ability. Every season. Every meet. Every damn time they step on the mat. It is also great to see a coach that can inspire such greatness. It is great to see a coach that is the epitome of “Fight, Fight, Fight!”

UCLA’s next three meets are on the road, but if you are looking to catch Miss Val and her Bruins at home, your next opportunity comes February 16 when UCLA hosts Arizona. Go Bruins!