In less than a month, the UCLA women's gymnastics team will begin the 2020 season, and many of the gymnasts will be entering their first season without longtime head coach Valerie Kondos Field. The reigning Pac-12 champion UCLA Bruins will start 2020 in their home state at the California Grand Invitational & Collegiate Challenge.
Both collegiate challenge sessions of the Cali Gran Invite will stream live here on FloGymnastics.
2019 Record: 14-1
2019 Final Ranking: No. 3
2019 Preseason Ranking: No. 1
2020 Preseason Ranking: No. 4
Gymnasts lost: Brielle Nguyen, Katelyn Ohashi, Stella Savvidou
Gymnasts gained: Emma Andres, Paige Hogan, Chloe Lashbrook, Samantha Sakti, Nicki Shapiro, Kalyany Steele
With Chris Waller as the new head coach and a strong senior class, including Olympians Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian, leading the way, the UCLA Bruins shouldn't miss a beat without Kondos Field at the helm. Waller is no stranger to the program as he was the associate head coach prior to Miss Val's retirement, and he's brought in more familiar faces to complete his coaching staff.
Associate head coach Kristina Comforte is a UCLA alum, while assistant coach Dom Palange was a volunteer assistant from 2014 to 2016. Volunteer assistant coach BJ Das is the lone member of the coaching staff who had no previous ties to UCLA, but the team has welcomed her with open arms, even before the 2019-2020 school year had begun.
After the departure of Nguyen, Ohashi, and Savvidou, UCLA is really losing only three routines: Nguyen and Ohashi's beam routines and Ohashi's viral floor routine. Savvidou sat out last season with a wrist injury. A former Illinois gymnast, Nguyen was a rock solid and reliable beam worker for UCLA, often scoring in the mid- to high-9.800 range. The transfer also competed in every meet, typically in the important lead-off position.
Ohashi needs no introduction. The former elite competed in every meet for the Bruins, but didn't always compete both beam and floor, allowing her to rest. However, when she did compete, she often earned scores in the 9.900+ range. In addition, Ohashi vaulted twice for the Bruins last season. So the biggest hole for the reigning Pac-12 champions is on beam.
The problem isn’t finding beam routines to fill the holes but rather finding the right routines. Nguyen was often the lead-off while Ohashi had the ability to score very high.
A staple in UCLA’s vault and floor lineups, Felicia Hano is one to watch on beam for the Bruins. Hano hasn’t competed beam since early 2018 but was great at Meet the Bruins, earning a 9.875. Samantha Sakti, a transfer from William & Mary, is definitely a contender, competing for the first time as a Bruin last weekend at Meet the Bruins, earning a 9.900 for her beam routine.
Other new Bruins to keep an eye on include Kalyany Steele. Steele didn’t compete beam at UCLA’s preseason intrasquad but has a beautiful triple series that's been spotted on UCLA's Snapchat. However, she did compete on bars and showed off a great routine featuring an excellent swing.
The other event on which the Bruins lost a routine is floor. Ohashi left some big shoes to fill, but there should be no reason to worry as UCLA has plenty of other gymnasts who can make the floor lineup that weren’t there or didn’t last year.
For example, former elite Norah Flatley competed floor at Meet the Bruins, showing off her Black Swan and anime inspired routine. Season is still a few weeks away, but Flatley showed her potential. In her only appearance on floor last year, which was early last season at the Collegiate Challenge, she earned a solid 9.750.
Freshman Chloe Lashbrooke is the reigning Region 1 floor champion, so Lashbrooke can certainly compete on floor and contend for a spot. She competed an exhibition routine at Meet the Bruins. Lashbrooke’s routine begins with an excellent double tuck, and she is capable of solid dance elements, including an illusion turn.
In terms of events, the Bruins are only gaining, and Kendall Poston and Nicki Shapiro are worth noting. Poston competed on vault only three times last season but had a great vault at Meet the Bruins. Shapiro has returned to the team after retiring a few years ago; she last competed in 2016. However, the redshirt senior competed on bars at Meet the Bruins and looked to contend there, as well as on beam.
Last, but certainly not least, for UCLA as it enters the 2020 season, are Olympic and world champions, Ross and Kocian. Ross has proven to be one of the best collegiate gymnasts ever, recording a Gym Slam last season, and she boasts a near-perfect career-high all-around score of 39.850. Enough said. So UCLA will definitely be counting on her to lead the way in her senior season.
Kocian was consistently in the bars and beam lineups last season, but the WOGA alumna is capable of making lineups for all four events. Although the 2015 world uneven bars champion is known for her work on bars, she’s on her way to returning to the floor lineup. Kocian competed her new routine at Meet the Bruins. Her career high on floor is 9.950, but she hasn’t officially competed floor since the 2018 Super Six. The time to peak, though, is April, so as long as Kocian can continue to train and hit solid routines for her team, she could be competing more this season.