Tuesday, February 25

Ties to Oregon State spur gymnastics rivalry

Gymnasts adjust strategy, aiming to perform as consistently in competition as in practice

Evan Luxenberg

UCLA gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field is ready to remind Oregon State coach Tanya Chaplin that blue and gold still dominate the gymnasium.

Chaplin, a former Bruin gymnast and two-time UCLA athlete of the year, returns to Pauley Pavilion on Sunday to compete against her alma mater and old coach.

Chaplin’s husband, Michael, Oregon State’s associate coach, has similar Bruin connections. He was a member of UCLA’s 1987 national championship-winning men’s gymnastics team and a teammate of Bruin assistant coach Chris Waller.

“It’s always exciting to go against a really good Pac-10 team and especially against Oregon State,” Kondos Field said. “It’s a very healthy rivalry, and it always gets really fun. There is often some trash-talking amongst us, especially Chris (Waller) and Michael (Chaplin).”

The No. 9 Bruins (6-2, 4-2 Pac-10) take on the No. 3 Beavers (9-0, 4-0), hoping to advance in the Pac-10 standings and boost their regional qualifying score. Undefeated Oregon State is currently first in the conference followed by Stanford and UCLA, respectively. The Beavers scored a season-high 196.725 in last week’s win against Arizona, matching the Bruins’ season record.

Coming off a loss against Stanford, the team has been training to correct costly errors on floor exercise and balance beam that led to UCLA’s first defeat at Pauley Pavilion on Sunday.

Concerns about UCLA’s weakness on beam reemerged after last week’s competition, when the Bruins once again had two falls on beam within the first three competitors. However, Kondos Field denies that the team has a problem on the apparatus because they are able to execute difficult assignments beautifully in training.

“I don’t really feel like we have a beam issue,” she said. “Every day Chris (Waller) and I try to come up with some new way to challenge them and put as much pressure on them as possible to get them to crack, but they don’t. They are near perfect in training, and what you are seeing is the first few student athletes up are the ones that are getting tight.”

Kondos Field also believes the Bruins’ depth has led to competition within the team, which negatively affected the gymnasts’ performance on beam. With the top six competitors on uneven bars, vault and floor already established, beam remains the only event in which the lineup has not been determined. Although senior Anna Li and sophomores Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs and Vanessa Zamarripa have already secured their spots as the last half of the beam rotation, the first three gymnasts are competing with the added pressure of solidifying their position on the event.

In an effort to calm the first three competitors on beam, the Bruins’ coaching staff will try a different strategy against Oregon State. Instead of finishing the beam rotation with Li, Zamarripa and Hopfner-Hibbs, Kondos Field will start the lineup with one of the three gymnasts.

“That way, we have a few routines (in the beginning) that we know we are going to hit. Hopefully it will make the other three (competitors) be able to go out and compete with a little less nerve so that they can just release their potential on that event,” she said.

UCLA’s poor floor performance against Stanford is a big issue for the team going into Sunday’s competition. The Bruins were unable to keep their feet within the taped lines, incurring a season-high five out-of-bound penalties. The crucial mistake taught the team a valuable lesson on the importance of controlling adrenaline under pressure, a message UCLA is taking to heart against Oregon State.

“We as coaches have been working on doing a better job of channeling (the gymnasts’) energy so they don’t make the same mistakes,” Kondos Field said. “We have had a lot of team meetings this week and a very good inter-squad. I think that the girls turned a corner this last weekend with their performances, and we are ready to go win.”

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