Welcome back gymnastics! How I've missed you, after being inundated with gymnastics coverage from the Summer Olympics. This Sunday the preseason #2 ranked UCLA Gymnastics team opens their season against Southern Utah at home in new Pauley Pavilion.
What is College Gymnastics?
It is completely different from what you see on TV at the Olympics and World Championships. The scoring is based on Level 10 Gymnastics (if you ever competed or have a child that competes, you progress through the levels, having to prove you can perform the skills at each level. College gymnastics require at least a Level 10. Olympic Level gymnasts are generally elite level gymnasts.) College gymnastics is how gymnastics "used" to be at the Olympics - each team will usually send up six gymnasts per apparatus, and five scores will count. The scores are on a "perfect" 10 scoring system, making it easier to follow than current elite level gymnastics.
You may think the gymnast performed a routine that is worthy of a perfect 10, but all routines have a "start value" based on the difficulty of the routine, so if the routine starts at a value of 9.8, the highest score she can score is 9.8. Each gymnast is scored by three judges, and the scores are averaged. At each meet, the scores are added up to an overall team score, and the highest score wins.
In general, the quality of gymnastics you see at the college level seems "cleaner" because at the elite level, the girls are trying to throw in every element possible to score every last point. Without that pressure, the gymnast can concentrate on perfecting their routine with elements they are pretty comfortable with overall.
The team is led by 2010 NCAA Vault Champion Vanessa Zamarripa in her red shirt senior year, two-time Pac-12 vault champion Olivia Courtney, and 2011 first team uneven bars All-American Monique de la Torre. Unfortunately the team will be without 2011 NCAA Balance Beam and All-American Samantha Peszek due to an Achilles tear, but she will redshirt and return next season. We will welcome back 2011 Floor All American Sydney Sawa, who missed most of 2012 with a shoulder injury, and Lichelle Wong, who missed half of the season with an Achilles injury.
We will also have Mattie Larson, Alyssa Pritchett, and Kaelie Baer. I expect Mattie to make an impact this year in her sophomore year and will hopefully step up in the void left behind by Peszek's injury.
Christine Peng Peng Lee - A member of the Canadian National Team, she served as team captain to the Olympic Team this summer in London, although she was unable to compete due to a knee injury. Watch her on the balance beam at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships, where she scored a 15.3 which is a great score.
Danusia Francis - A member of the British National Team, she was an alternate to the Olympic Team this summer. Her impact will probably be felt most on the floor, based on the videos I've seen on youtube, although most of her individual medals are on balance beam. Check her out on the floor here.
Sophina DeJesus - A former US National Team Member, you may recognize her from the Discovery Kids show Hip Hop Harry (or your kids will.) She has competed at the elite level, but it appears she is much more comfortable at Level 10. She should shine on the floor if she competes there this year, as she is a former hip hop dancer, and in the hands of Coach Val, the routines should be spectacular. But here is a very nice beam set from her, minus one fall, but otherwise a lovely routine.
UCLA is led by Head Coach Valerie Kondos-Field, who, in case you didn't know, does not have a background in gymnastics. She is actually a ballet dancer. She still has coached the Bruins to six NCAA titles and has been with the team for 23 years. Coach Val, as she is known, is a great recruiter (I still think Kristen Maloney and Jamie Dantzscher were probably some of the best gymnasts at UCLA ever) and surrounds herself with great assistant coaches. Our assistant coaches are former US Olympian (and Bruin when we still had a men's team) Chris Waller, whom I grew up watching, and Randy Lane, former NCAA Champion at Illinois. Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs is back as an undergraduate assistant coach. Kassidy Kozai, who never competed due to injury, is also an undergraduate coach.
Here is the second major difference with college gymnastics and competitive gymnastics: there is a meet scheduled every week, compared to elite gymnastics, which has a few competitions scheduled in a cluster of four months, each competition lasting a few days. Being in the Pac-12, which has five teams ranked in the top 25, we will see some good teams come through this year, along with traveling to preseason #1 and defending NCAA Champ Alabama and hosting the always strong Arkansas Razorbacks in March. The home meet against #5 Utah will be great, as will the road meet against #6 Stanford. UCLA came in first in the Pac-12 coaches poll, but Utah was close behind in second.
UCLA's meet against Utah will be televised on the Pac-12 Network, and the meet AT Stanford will actually be televised LIVE. Otherwise, if you'd like to follow the meet, you can listen to the radio call (I know, for gymnastics....) at uclabruins.com. The live scoring is much more useful. You can also check the BruinGymnastics on youtube for videos.
Man. I think we'll know a little more after the first meet this weekend. Losing Sam Peszek is huge, because she competed on all four apparatuses, and scored very well on all four. Losing a consistent 9.85-9.9 per element is big, along with the loss of Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs consistent scoring as well. Vanessa Zamarripa should have a fantastic senior year and Olivia Courtney will also be consistent. The freshmen will contribute on a limited basis - Coach Val brings the freshmen in very slowly, and they do not compete on all four elements in one meet. Mattie Larson is the person I look to have a breakout season, based on her past experience/resume, to help stay on top in the Pac-12.
I think the team will make it to Regionals, and probably squeeze into the Super Six, but I don't know if they will be able to hang with the likes of Alabama and Florida, who brought in 2009 All Around World Champion Bridget Sloan and former national team member and Pan Am medalist Bridgette Caquatto to a team that still has Kytra Hunter and Marissa King. Last year's National Championship was fantastic, with the top three teams separated by 0.10 (we so could have won...) but I don't know if we have the same firepower heading into this year. Like I said, we'll know more after Southern Utah.
In the meantime, Go Bruins.