No one escaped the injury bug that struck UCLA gymnastics – not even Coach Valorie Kondos Field.
Unhampered by healing stitches and a wrapped right foot, Kondos Field continued to direct her practices this week efficiently and with urgency, ushering gymnasts from event to event.
The long-time coach looked to keep her No. 5 UCLA gymnastics team sharp in preparation for a Saturday afternoon meet against undefeated No. 7 Utah (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12).
Under retired 40-year coach Greg Marsden and recently graduated 16-time All-American Georgia Dabritz, the Utes captured the last six meetings against the Bruins and dominated the overall head-to-head 50-25-1.
With freshman Katelyn Ohashi recovering from a sternal fracture and redshirt junior Peng-Peng Lee resting a sore knee, freshman Madison Preston will be charged with filling in the gaps, competing in beam and floor in addition to her usual vault routine.
But Preston and the rest of the team understand the importance of balancing their relentless training with necessary recovery.
“We want to work all the time to hit our handstands and landings,” Preston said. “But we also need to work on recovery and staying healthy.”
After a three-meet road trip that took them from Florida to Arizona and back to California, the coaching staff saw bright spots despite the 1-2 record, including a season-high score of 196.925.
Now with the team getting healthier and healthier, the coaches aim to build on the mental aspects of gymnastics.
“We’re looking to getting back to being sharp again,” Kondos Field said. “We’re figuring out to dial in on vault and then maximize and really shine on the events we can be perfect on, like beam.”
Scoring a season-low 195.175 in Monday’s loss against No. 21 Cal, the team regrouped and set new goals and markers for the season.
“We’re a competitive team and we work best when we have direction,” Lee said. “Our goal now is to score above a 197.”
In a sport where .05 of a point separated Utah from an 11th NCAA championship last season, the Bruins will have to eliminate the small mistakes and bobbles if they hope to upend their Pac-12 rival.
Changes in the scoring during the offseason left most of UCLA’s vaults starting with less then the maximum start value, which is 10.0.
To compensate, the Bruins continue to tweak and change their floor and beam routines where they rank first and fourth in the country.
“If we want to reach the goals we set, we have to focus on getting every tenth,” Lee said.
Elevating her beam routine by altering her hands-free “Bluetooth” routine to include flairs and aerials, the team leader is hoping that the changes can push her from a season-high 9.95 to a 10.
With three traditional powerhouse programs – Georgia, Stanford and Oklahoma – left on the schedule, UCLA will have plenty of markers left to test its program’s progress and chances to set new and loftier goals.