Dec. 15, 1997
Defending Men's Gymnastics NCAA Champs Looking to Make it Two-In-A-Row
There are few things in sports more difficult than repeating as an NCAA National Champion. But after winning last year's title with a record-setting all-around performance, that's exactly what the California men's gymnastics team will be attempting to do as they enter the 1998 season. The Golden Bears captured the 1997 NCAA crown with a score of 233.825, besting strong squads from Oklahoma (232.725) and Iowa (231.800) en route to the team's first NCAA title since 1968 and just the third ever at Cal. Cal's score, which eclipsed the previous NCAA record of 233.400 also set by the Bears, now stands as the highest point total ever in a collegiate competition. But that's all history and the 1998 squad's goal of winning back-to-back titles will not be an easy one. Gone is the nucleus of last year's team with U.S. National Team members David Kruse and Trent Wells as well as All-Americans C. J. Faust and Andrew Mason all having completed their eligibility at Cal. But head coach Barry Weiner believes he has the talent in place to make another strong run at the title.
"It's very difficult when you lose the level of gymnasts that we lost from last year's team," said Weiner. "But with our returners and some very talented newcomers we have coming in, I believe we'll be just as strong and it's our goal to repeat as national champions."
The core of this year's team will be six strong all-around competitors in seniors Josh Birckelbaw, Josh Landau, Gewin Sincharoen and Evgenii Zherebchevskiy and juniors Alex Chansky and Oleg Kosiak.
Landau and Chansky both competed for a slot on the U.S. National Team at the 1997 U.S. Men's Gymnastics Championships in Denver, Colo., last summer. Both had excellent all-around competitions with Chansky, who was the NCAA West Regional champion on horizontal bar with a career-best 9.875, just missing out on making the squad as his two-day score fell only .400 out of the final qualification position.
Kosiak and Zherebchevskiy are also expected to add punch to the Bears lineup. Kosiak was a member of the bronze medal winning Ukrainian Olympic Team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, while Zherebchevskiy, who has competed internationally for both the junior and senior Ukrainian National Teams, is the co-Ukrainian rings champion.
"There's no doubt that we are going to have some new people step up and take up the slack," Weiner said. "But our goal is to win it all again, and I believe we can do just that."
Start a new era for California women's gymnastics -- that is what first-year head coach Trina Tinti hopes to do during her tenure at the helm of the Golden Bear program.
With the departure of Alfred Mitchell, the Bears leader for the past four years, Tinti inherits a program that was 9-11 overall and 0-6 in the Pac-10 Conference. But despite a disappointing 1997 conference showing, Cal finished sixth in the NCAA Western Regional and moved ended the year with a 25th place national ranking.
The Bears will have to regroup, however, after losing four seniors to graduation, including co-Pac-10 floor champion Mindy Ornellas, who holds the top two all-time scores in Bear history on that event and Cal's three-time record holder on the beam and All-Pac-10 Academic second team selection Candice Kwok.
"This is basically a rebuilding year for California gymnastics," said Tinti, who was a member of the UCLA gymnastics team from 1983-87. "We are trying to upgrade the program and move up to a higher level."
The Bears will be led this season by senior co-captain Christine Nishimoto and junior Angela Mapa, a 1997 All-Pac-10 Academic honorable mention selection. One of five juniors on the team, Mapa will compete for the Bears in the all-around competition. A tough competitor, she will be the only Cal gymnast to finish her floor routine with a double back.
Cal returns a core of gymnasts in the sophomore class, including Leila Khoury, Chantel Debert and Jennie Kang. The Bears top returning gymnast, Khoury is the sole all-arounder from last season, although Debert and Kang are expected to compete in the all-around in '98.
Tinti also welcomes three newcomers to the '98 squad in freshman Paula Chang, Helene Kenny and Pari Olver.
Cal enters the season with a team goal to finish in the middle of the Pac-10 Conference and to break into the Top 20 nationally. With a group of talented underclassmen and some valuable experience in the junior and senior classes, the Bears look to be taking the necessary steps in order to contend with conference opponents as well as make a run in postseason action.