The UCLA gymnastics team will begin its 2020 season this Saturday at the Collegiate Challenge in Anaheim against Oklahoma, California and Stanford. After a national championship in 2018 and placing third in 2019, the UCLA Bruins will begin a new era under the direction of head coach Chris Waller. He brings an entirely new staff on board, but many familiar collegiate faces will grace the mats this season. The Bruins are starting off the year ranked fourth nationally and favored to win the Pac-12 for the third year in a row.
Here is a look at the new coaching staff and a preview of what the team looks like going into the 2020 season.
Waller is definitely a familiar face to UCLA gymnastics fans, as he has been with the team for 17 years as an assistant coach. He is a former Olympian and was on the 1987 UCLA men’s gymnastics national championship team. During his tenure as an assistant, UCLA has brought home four national titles.
Associate head coach Kristina Comforte competed at UCLA from 2006-08. She graduated in 2010 and has worked in various coaching roles since, including as an assistant for the University of Illinois in 2017, serving as the team’s main vault and floor coach and primary choreographer. From 2018-2019, she coached at the Illinois Gymnastics Institute, working with level 7-10 on vault and floor.
Assistant Coach Dom Palange is a former UCLA volunteer assistant and now returns as an assistant focusing mainly on vault and floor. During his previous stint at UCLA, Palange coached the Bruins on floor exercise in 2016 and on balance beam in 2014 and 2015. He was part of the staff that won the 2016 Pac-12 title and the 2015 NCAA Regional title.
Finally, volunteer assistant coach B.J. Das will be joining the staff this year. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and competed for the Huskies for two years. She is now a professional choreographer and dancer, and has performed live on several television shows and with noted artists such as Beyonce, Pink, and Avril Lavigne. Last season, she choreographed floor routines at the University of Utah.
UCLA will no longer have the internet breaking routines of Katelyn Ohashi, as she graduated last spring and has moved on to life after college. She, along with Brielle Nguyen, are leaving it to the newcomers to continue the tradition of UCLA gymnastics excellence. Macy Toronjo was listed as a senior last season, but is returning as a redshirt since she missed the 2016 and 2018 seasons due to injury.
UCLA gets one more season with former Olympians Kyla “the Boss” Ross and Madison Kocian. Anna Glenn, Grace Glenn, Felicia Hano, Gracie Kramer, and Mercedez Sanchez also make up this year’s senior class, which is absolutely stacked and is up one with the return of Nicki Shapiro. Shapiro competed for UCLA in 2016, but left the team to pursue other interests. After trying out for the team again, she has earned a spot to compete in 2020.
Ross is coming back after completing a “Gym Slam” in 2019, earning Perfect Tens in all four events. She was the 2019 NCAA vault and floor champion, and took the 2019 Pac-12 all-around, uneven bars, and floor titles. It’s no surprise that she was the 2019 West Region and Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year. Additionally, junior Nia Dennis will be back after earning First Team All-American on bars and Second Team All-Pac-12 honors on vault last season. Dennis is definitely capable of competing in the all-around.
Sophomores Norah Flatley and Margzetta Frazier are both back as well after making an impact last season as freshmen. Flatley earned 2019 Second Team All-Pac-12 honors on both bars and beam and Second Team regular season All-American honors on the bars. Frazier had show-stopping floor routines, averaging a 9.877 during the 2019 season. She was selected to the First Team All-American and Second Team All-Pac-12 on uneven bars, and was recognized as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week twice last season.
UCLA welcomes freshmen Emma Andres, Paige Hogan, Chloe Lashbrooke, and Kalyany Steele. Andres was a two-time Junior Olympic Nationals qualifier in 2017 and 2019. Hogan joins the team as a four-time state champion and competitor out of Waller’s GymJam Academy. Lashbrooke has the potential to continue the floor exercise trend of perfection, as she was the floor exercise champion at the 2019 Level 10 Region 1 Championships. Steele was the 2016 Level 10 state all-around and vault champion and has competitiveness in her genes, with her father Darrin and his twin brother Dan competing for the USA bobsled team in the 1998 and 2002 Olympic Games.
Sophomore Samantha Satki is also joining the team this year after transferring from William and Mary. She earned All-ECAC honors in 2019 and was a three-time ECAC Gymnast of the Week. She debuted her beam routine at the Meet the Bruins intersquad event on December 14, nailing her routine and earning a 9.900.
What’s to Come in 2020
This team has incredible potential and will more than likely see success similar to the Miss Val years. The team has been ranked fourth in the nation heading into the seasonis the Pac-12 favorite. Fans should expect nothing less than excellence under this new coaching regime. The big question for the future is: How will Waller and staff go about replacing the talent-laden senior class that UCLA currently has?