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Janelle McDonald joins UCLA gymnastics, replaces Chris Waller as head coach

New UCLA gymnastics coach Janelle McDonald poses in front of a UCLA sign. McDonald was announced as the Bruins’ next head coach Monday after spending the past four seasons with California. (Courtesy of Jesus Ramirez/UCLA Athletics)

By Sam Settleman and Nico Edgar

May 9, 2022 6:18 p.m.

For the first time in more than three decades, a former Bruin won’t be leading the Bruins.

UCLA gymnastics announced Monday it has hired former California assistant coach Janelle McDonald to be its next head coach. McDonald’s hiring comes three weeks after the resignation of former coach Chris Waller.

McDonald boasts more than two decades of experience in coaching at the elite and collegiate levels of gymnastics, most recently earning Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association Regional Assistant Coach of the Year honors in 2020 and 2021.

“​​I am honored and so grateful to be joining the UCLA Athletics family!” McDonald said in a statement released by UCLA Athletics. “From the moment I stepped onto campus, I could feel the Bruin pride and tradition of excellence around every corner.”

McDonald joined the Golden Bears’ program in 2019 and served as its primary coach on bars. In 2021, Cal finished the season ranked first in the country on the event, including tying an NCAA record 49.825. In 2022, the Golden Bears ranked 10th nationally on the event, with six Cal gymnasts earning All-America honors on bars under McDonald’s tutelage.

Cal won its first-ever Pac-12 regular-season title in 2022 and notched a program-best seventh-place finish at nationals in 2021.

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said he believes McDonald will lead the Bruins back to the top of the sport.

“Janelle has been exemplary at connecting with and developing young people at every level of her coaching career,” Jarmond said in the statement. “Her enthusiasm and energy is contagious. She understands and respects the Bruin legacy and the commitment to excellence this program deserves as one of the best in the country.”

She served as the bars coach at Cal, but McDonald has experience coaching at all levels of gymnastics, including a six-year stint at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy, where she coached former Bruin and two-time Olympic medalist Madison Kocian. 

Kocian said McDonald’s enthusiasm for the sport stands out.

“Janelle’s passion and love for the sport radiates throughout her,” Kocian said in the statement. “She exudes qualities that will make an incredible head coach, mentor and leader for this program. I’m so excited to cheer her on as she upholds the UCLA Gymnastics legacy.”

McDonald will inherit a UCLA program that has failed to qualify for the NCAA championships in back-to-back seasons after previously making an appearance every year from 2006 to 2019. After welcoming the top-ranked freshman class in 2021, the Bruins will add the sixth-ranked class in 2022, including the top recruit in the country in Selena Harris.

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Sam Settleman | Assistant Sports editor
Settleman is currently an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, women's water polo and men's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman is currently an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, women's water polo and men's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Nico Edgar | Sports staff
Edgar is currently a Sports staffer on the gymnastics beat. He was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Edgar is currently a Sports staffer on the gymnastics beat. He was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
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