1997 Season Outlook
The California Golden Bear women's gymnastics team embarks on the 1997 season with one goal in mind--consistent performance and execution throughout the entire season.
"Last year we had a lot of strong regular season meets, but the postseason as far as Pac-10's and the NCAA Regionals did not end up the way we would have liked," said fourth year-head coach Alfie Mitchell. "That kind of left a bad taste in our mouths. What we'd like to do this year is have that same positive start to the season but continue to push it through and hopefully improve on the postseason type of results."
Team captain and senior Candice Kwok has improved on selection, execution and mental focus. Her strongest event is vault with floor a close second. Her career-best scores on vault (9.925) and floor (9.85) rank among the top three scores all-time at Cal in each event, while she tied the all-time beam record of 9.90 twice last season.
Senior Mindy Ornellas has elected not to compete in the all-around this year and is focusing her efforts on bars, beam, and floor. The Cal record holder on floor with a 9.925, Ornellas' career-best scores on beam (9.875) and in the all-around (38.950) each rank second in Cal history. This year, Ornellas will unveil a completely new floor routine and expects contend for the Pac-10 championship in that event. "There will be no question this year as to whether or not she can do the skills she will be attempting," said Mitchell. "Her season will all be about execution and performance."
Sharing the duties of captain with Kwok is senior Jennifer Wang. Wang had a some setbacks due to injuries in preseason training but she came on strong in December. Her strongest event is bars, as her career-best 9.875 ranks third best in Cal history, followed by beam and look for her on floor when she returns to 100 percent.
Kelly Webster, an academic senior who is in her second season with the Bears, is the team's lone vault specialist. "She has been tireless in working on improving physically as well as technically," said Mitchell. "A dynamic and powerful vaulter in the past, minor inconsistencies in form kept her from reaching her potential, but hard work last summer and fall is paying considerable dividends which will be evident this spring."
Christine Nishimoto is the only junior on the team, and her best event is the bars. A consistent starter, she averaged a 9.50 on bars, beam and floor. This season, she has upgraded the dismount of her bar routine to a double layout and added a new hip-hop rhythm to her floor routine.
The sophomores are a comeback class for the Bears this season. Emily Bails returns from an outstanding freshman campaign when she tied the all-time record on beam (9.900) and posted the second-best score in Cal history on floor (9.875). She has added difficulty in all her routines and looks to improve her scoring on vault this season.
Bails' high mark on floor was equaled by another frosh, Angela Mapa, in 1996. Mapa looks for improved consistency, and could score career highs in all events this season. In addition, Jennifer Bialosky, after limited action last season due to a knee injury, returns with high expectations. Sophomores academically, Lindsay Garrett and Elizabeth Alden enter their first season of competition for the Bears and both are expected to see action this season.
"The freshman class will lead the way, helping the team with strong scoring as well as forcing some of the upperclassmen to upgrade and clean up their routines," said Mitchell. "They could make the difference this season."
Wendy Lau has been solid through preseason training and will see action on all events this spring. A seasoned international competitor, Chantel Debert is another strong all-arounder who should score well on bars and floor. Leila Khoruy is an exciting gymnast whose best event is floor. Jennie Kang is still recovering from an achilles injury and will start the season competing on bars and beam. As the season progresses, she should work her way into the floor and vault lineups. In addition, frosh Elizabeth Berlin may see limited action while Leah Isaacson is expected to redshirt in 1997.
"We definitely have a perfect mixture of youth versus experience. We have 16 athletes on the team including eight that are freshmen in terms of eligibility. It is a good balance and with new people you get a lot of different feels."
The additions do not end with the athletes as Mitchell is joined by first-year assistants Meredith King and Kazukuni Ono. The new coaching combination has worked well and there have been some dramatic changes in the workouts.
"The conditioning has totally changed," said King, who most recently coached at Olympus School of Gymnastics. "As far as the athletes are concerned, this translates into strength which allows them to get through their routines much easier. We're already looking mere consistent than what I've seen from last year.
"We've made it our goal to not put the focus on placement or results, but rather consistency and execution are the elements that we are trying to improve upon. If we can do that, the end result is going to take care of itself."
The Bears are strong on every event with a fair amount of depth. Beam and floor provide the highest scoring potential as King's expertise in choreography should pay dividends, while bars will show the most improvement from last year to this year.
The event that suffered most from graduation it is vault. "When you lose a Pac-10 champion like Lisa Washington, you can't hide it," said Mitchell. "On the other hand, we're much deeper on vault than we have been in past years so the loss may not affect us in terms of scoring. There are many vaulters joining us this year that have a lot of potential. Only time will tell if they are as good and better than Washington."
With such a young squad, it is difficult for Mitchell and King to predict how the team will fare, however, early indications are good. With a core of strong returnees and many talented freshmen, Cal looks to make an impact in postseason competition.