Valorie Kondos Field was on a roll.
The UCLA gymnastics coach, sitting in between Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler and Utah’s Tom Farden, wasn’t just talking about what she saw in the first NCAA semifinal Friday afternoon.
Kondos Field was also raving and gushing about everything else gymnastics: the camaraderie of the sport, the rapidly growing talent at the collegiate level and the gem performers, like redshirt senior Peng-Peng Lee, who brought big routines nearly every meet.
“Those little gems are super important,” Kondos Field said. “They just make our sport so much richer. Peng chooses to do skills that she doesn’t need to do. If you can play big, play big.”
But even with many of her gems including Lee and seniors Hallie Mossett, Angi Cipra and Mikaela Gerber gone next year due to graduation, Kondos Field will still be ready to continue choreographing and implementing routines with big skills for her team.
All-Americans sophomore Katelyn Ohashi and freshmen Madison Kocian as well as NCAA uneven bars and balance beam champion Kyla Ross will be back for another season.
Kocian, who came to UCLA right after the Rio Olympics where she won a team gold and an individual silver on uneven bars, will have her first break in months.
Even with time off, the freshman, who competed in the all-around in all but one meet this year, is already planning how to improve her gymnastics for her sophomore season.
“We’re gonna start working new skills in the summer, some upgrades,” Kocian said. “We’re focusing on the little details down at the end.”
Kocian, Ohashi and Ross already combined for eight scores higher than 9.90 during the NCAA championship, helping the Bruins cap off the 2017 season with a fourth-place finish and a team score 0.4375 higher than their fifth-place score a season ago.
The three All-Americans’ highest scoring routines of the championship came from balance beam, uneven bars and floor exercise, the same three events that the Bruins improved from 2016 to 2017.
The only weakness for UCLA – the one event that didn’t improve between 2016 to 2017 – was vault.
The Bruins’ best vaulters struggled at the Super Six, with the team putting up scores below their season average.
Many weren’t able to train the 10.0 vaults consistently because of injury, but the focus of the postseason, and for next season, is to increase the difficulty and consistency on the event.
“We need to improve vault,” Kondos Field said. “I’ve been saying all season it’s our weakest event. We have great vaulters and in the spring and the summer, we’re gonna get those 10.0 vaults to where we can compete them next year.”
The Bruins will have their great vaulters back, like sophomore Madison Preston and junior Napualani Hall, but they’ll still need to replace the seniors who guided the team to two NCAA Super Sixes, particularly on balance beam and floor exercise.
Lee and Gerber were two crucial gymnasts on the balance beam rotation, with Gerber averaging a 9.82 as a lead off and Lee averaging a 9.846 as the second-to-last performer.
Mossett also frequently competed on balance beam in addition to her signature event, floor exercise, where she averaged a 9.891 on her Beyoncé routine.
The Bruins will also have to replace Cipra, who became known for her iPhone routine, on floor as well as on vault where she averaged a 9.819 despite missing the beginning of the season due to injury.
But no matter who steps up for those spots – whether it’ll be an incoming freshman or a gem waiting to break out – expect Kondos Field to have big routines ready for them.