March 23, 2013
CORVALLIS, Ore. -
California gymnastics head coach Justin Howell was honored as the Pac-12 Gymnastics Coach of the Year and freshman Serena Leong is the Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year, the conference announced Saturday at the Pac-12 Gymnastics Championship in Corvallis, Ore.
This is the program's first Coach of the Year honor since 2003, and just its third all-time. This is the first time a Cal coach has received an outright honor, as former Golden Bear coach Alfred Mitchell shared the award with Arizona's Jim Gault and Arizona State's John Spini in 1994, and Cari DuBois shared it with UCLA's Valorie Kondos Field in 2003. This is Cal's first-ever Freshman/Newcomer of the Year award since the award was created in 2000.
Howell is in his first year at the helm of the women's gymnastics program after serving under former head coach Danna Durante in 2012. In less than 12 months, Howell has led the Golden Bears to national prominence within the gymnastics world. The team finished the regular season with a 196.525, the second-highest score in program history and highest score since 2007.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by your peers in a conference like the Pac-12. I have so much respect for all eight programs in our conference and all of the coaches and coaching staffs. Everybody does such a phenomenal job that it’s a privilege to be part of the Pac-12,” Howell said. “I really credit this award to our coaching staff, and everyone that touches our program. They make my job easy.”
As a freshman on the squad, Leong set high marks of 9.9 on the vault, 9.775 on the balance beam and 9.90 on the floor to help the Golden Bears to their best season in recent years. She posted 9.9 marks three times during the season.
“To have so many phenomenally talented freshmen athletes in the Pac- 12 and have our coaching body recognize that Serena is an outstanding student-athlete is amazing,” Howell said. “She’s carrying a 3.8-plus GPA, and one of the few freshmen who has been admitted in the engineering program. She’s managing all of that and doing what she’s doing out on the competition floor and everyone recognized that. I think it speaks volume to our program and the kind of student athletes that are at Cal.”
Stanford's Amanda Spinner was named Specialist of the Year, and UCLA's Vanessa Zamarripa is Gymnast of the Year. The awards are voted upon by the conference's head coaches prior to the championship meet.