April 25, 2007
Women's Gymnastics National Championships
Pre-Meet Press Conference
April 25, 2007
Florida Head Coach Rhona Faehn
Question: "Florida is going into this meet as the overwhelming favorite to win its first NCAA Gymnastics Championship. Is this the year that a team other than Utah, UCLA, Georgia or Alabama finally wins a title?"
Answer: "We are really excited to be here at the University of Utah. It was nice that we were out here about six ago for our dual meet competition. It's a setting that were really familiar with and we had a good practice today. It is true that there have only been four schools to ever win a national title and I think this year, more than any, it is clear that more teams are getting towards that level where they can challenge for the title. And, I think that's what makes this so exciting and so great here; there are so many powerful teams. We are trying not to focus on being the fifth team that wins. We're just focusing on everything we've already done this season and then going out and competing like we have in every single meet so far, and going out and having fun while we're doing it. Then, we hope the results will be what we want."
Question: "What did you take from being a gymnast under Val Kondos? Do you think her success has helped you?"
Answer: "Without a doubt, I think the greatest thing I took from Valorie was she coached the person and not just the athlete. When I was under Bella and Marta Karoli, they were tremendous coaches in their own right in completely different situations. They were strictly coaching the athlete. When you go into college, all of the sudden there all these different things that happen. You have to deal with academics, a social life, and things you've never had before. And Miss Val communicates so well and I think it was important for me to learn that I was doing gymnastics because I loved it as opposed doing it because that what I've always and because my coaches pushed me to do it. So, I think that's really helpful. Now that I'm coaching the athletes at Florida, I almost feel like their mother. I treat each and every one of them different. They are individuals and they have different needs and I love them all."
Florida Student-Athlete Samantha Lutz
Question: "Does the fact that your team in undefeated and No. 1 put additional pressure on you?"
Answer: "I don't think so. We're not focusing too much on the rankings or anything that has happened so far this season. It's a new competition and a new playing field. We have so much fun together and we like to compete together and this is one more chance for all of us to go out on stage and do what we like to do. We're just focusing on that, on our team and everything that we've been working on this year."
Utah head coach Greg Marsden
Question: "The first time your team hit all 24 routines was at the regional championships. Do you feel this is a sign that your team is peaking at the right time, and if so, to what do you attribute the change?"
Answer: "First, I'd like to say we're really happy to be in Utah. And, what a great job Utah does in hosting this event, what a beautiful place this is, I can't believe that everyone doesn't want to live here. We do feel like that finally got it together and did more of what we were capable of doing. It's been a rollercoaster season, partly because half of our team are freshmen. Once they got it figured out and began to do what they were capable of, we had some people in and out of the lineup with injuries, so we had a hard time just getting it going. So the last couple meets of the year, we showed some progress and then training was much, much better when we started preparing for regionals. We finally put a good meet together at regionals, training has continued to go well, and our plan is to keep it going."
Utah student-athlete Nicolle Ford
Question: "How do you feel about competing before your home crowd for the national championship?"
Answer: "We're really excited. I mean, this is our favorite place to compete. We love to compete in front of our crowd because they are one of the loudest that we've ever heard. That really helps the team to get going and get pumped up."
Oklahoma Head Coach J.J. Kindler
Question: "You tied for second at regionals with your former team, Iowa State. What were your feelings after learning Oklahoma had beaten your old team on a tie-breaker and was headed to nationals?"
Answer: "It was great TV drama, wasn't it? It was a tough situation, obviously. A lot of my former athletes are on the Iowa State team and all of my new athletes at Oklahoma, I want the best for all of them. Obviously, I was elated when I found out that we had won the tie-breaker, going into the meet as the second seed and then moving on. While it was an ironic situation, we're proud to be here and are happy that we have made it this far."
Oklahoma student-athlete Brittney Konack-Schumann
Question: "You're a senior competing for a new coaching staff. How is this different from last year's experience?"
Answer: "I think all four of me years have been different. With a different team, it's different situation each time with different girls. This year, it happens to be a different coaching staff. They are very talented and they believe in us. So, it's been a great situation for us and it's been a great year."
Denver Head Coach Melissa Kutcher Rinehart
Question: "After upsetting Penn State at regionals, what is your team's mentality heading into the championships, where you are once again an underdog?"
Answer: "Again, thank you to the University of Utah and we are very pleased to be here. It's a nice short trip for us so we enjoy it, and allows for our friends and family to come out and watch us compete as well. You know, we started off the season with a few injuries and some inconsistencies. As the season progressed we got a little bit stronger, and stronger and stronger and more and more consistent. I think that's why we were so successful at regionals. I think our athletes did a great job in a pressure situation. I think we're excited to be here but we're not done. In 2001, when we were here as a team, we were pleased to be here and we were so happy that we didn't care what happened. That is certainly not the case anymore. We are here because we are ready to compete. We are prepared and we want to do well."
Question: "You came from Florida and that is a very successful program. Has that helped your coaching at all?"
Answer: "I was fortunate to have competed at Florida but I also learned from several good coaches, starting with my club coach, Tim Morand. Then I was fortunate enough to learn from Ernestine Weaver, Jody Markell and then Bev Plocki at the University of Michigan where I was for five years before I came to Denver. All were very good coaches. It's been nice to take little bit from everyone and then do what works best for us."
Denver student-athlete Heather Huffaker
Question: "You've qualified for two NCAA Championships as an at-large competitor. What does it mean to you to come here with your team and has it changed your goals?"
Answer: "It's definitely changed our goals. I've been here as an individual but our team is here, ready to compete and that has shifted our goals a lot. It's a lot more exciting because it's not all that great to be here by yourself. Getting to watch the excitement of it, and everything else, but not really being involved in it. So, I think it's going to be a lot different and we're all really excited."
Michigan Head Coach Bev Plocki
Question: "Nearly half of your scholarship gymnasts have been lost for all or most of the season. How did this team manage to win the Big 10 title and qualify for nationals for the 15th straight year?"
Answer: "I am so incredibly proud of this team. I think in my 18 years of coaching that I have encountered a lot of teams, lots of individuals that have accomplished a lot, but this team is very special. They have so much heart and so much drive, and determination. It's kind of funny to be back at Utah, because it was our Utah meet during the regular season I think turned the corner for us. It's where we decided that nothing was going to get us down, and we were going to overcome whatever adversity was thrown our way. And I just have the most tremendous group of athletes right now. We have a total of 3 routines being performed by seniors, nine routines total by upperclassmen, I think 11 by sophomores and the rest by freshmen. So we are definitely a very young team and our sophomore class led by Tatjana Thuener-Rego has definitely carried the weight for us this season. We are so proud that we can come back here among the group of incredible teams. There is so much parity here, and we are just so excited and happy to be back here in Utah, and it's a chance to make another dream come true."
Michigan student-athlete Tatjana Thuener-Rego
Question: "Last year you made the event finals on beam. What are your individual goals this year?"
Answer: "It's hard to say what I want to do individually because this team has been through so much this year. So the fact that we made it to nationals is just amazing and basically whatever happens now is an even better payoff because being here is so great. But individually I just want to do as well as I can for my team for my school just to see how far we can make it here. I just basically want to do well for my team."
LSU Head Coach D-D Breaux
Question: "Your team got off to a slow start this season before really turning it on. What is the difference between your early-season team and now?"
Answer: "I think most coaches would agree that consistency is what wins competitions, and ultimately will get you to championship events. I think it took us about four competitions to hit our stride. We were trying a tremendous amount of difficulty, and trying to compete at the highest level, and when you are doing that you learn new skills, you are going to make mistakes. I took us about four weeks to hit our stride and find our consistency. We feel like we have had an extremely tough schedule. A schedule that should prepare us for the rigors of this competition, and the parity is just incredible from every aspect of our season. We have been challenged, I just hope I can look forward to watching my team rise to the occasion, and make it happen so we can advance."
LSU student-athlete Ashleigh Clare-Kearney
Question: "After sitting out all but one meet last year, did you imagine that you would come back this year and be as successful as you are - finishing the regular season tied for first in the national all-around rankings?"
Answer: "No. My expectations were not very high for myself at first. Last year really I was feeling kind of sorry for myself more than anything. Then I realized I had to use that as motivation. This year I just wanted to get out there and compete again and help my team as much as I could because it was very hard to be on the sidelines last year watching and wishing I could help them. I just try to stay focused on each event at a time, each meet at a time and I ended up being successful."
UCLA Head Coach Valorie Kondos Field
Question: "Did you approach regionals any differently this year after missing the NCAA Championship a year ago and do you have a new appreciation for the difficulty in qualifying for this event?"
Answer: "We did not approach regionals any differently than last year. We as in coaches all say that it is the toughest meet of the year, because if you don't win you don't get to go to the big dance. I have to say that I am so excited to be coming back to the national championships. It is something that I think having been there all those years it is something that I took for granted. I really believe that every coach and athlete that has come here should be very thankful and feel that sense of gratitude and appreciation. As coach Breaux mentioned the parity here is wonderful and that is what we have been striving for the last two decades. You look at the field here with these 12 teams and they are great and there are another six teams behind them that could have made this field. It is anybody's ballgame, which is exciting for our sport nationally. I've been here in the sport for 25 years and as far as our team I don't remember a team that has been as coachable, which is extremely fun for us but also a little scary because they are always looking up to us coaches. They will do whatever you ask them and they carry a refuse to lose attitude. They just always find a way to dig deep and always seem to find a way to win which should help us tomorrow and Friday."
UCLA student-athlete Tasha Schwikert
Question: "You missed most of last season following shoulder surgery and didn't have the opportunity to defend your NCAA all-around title from 2005. How do you feel about being considered one of the all-around favorites again?"
Answer: "It is just amazing to be back. Like coach said you take it for granted when you go to UCLA. You expect to go to the national championship. It is great to back. We have an awesome team. We definitely have a lot of heart. We are just ready to get out there and compete our hearts out on Thursday night, definitely not save anything for Friday because no one here is a sure in for the Super Six. And as for as for me individually, it was definitely hard for me to be out last year with the shoulder injury however I am ready this year and excited to be here. I really feel I am ready to reclaim the title if I do well."
Stanford Coach Kristyn Smyth
Question: "You have the only team in the top 12 with virtually no individuals in the national rankings. What does this say about your team and how you have achieved success this year?"
Answer: "First of all we are very excited to be back at the greatest gymnastics meet of the year. Us sitting out the last two years really lit a fire with everyone on our team to step up and do the best job possible. We have more depth on our team than we have ever had at Stanford. We have really been able to cycle the athletes all year. We had some early season injuries that kept some of our big guns out, but other student-athletes just stepped up. They covered each other beautifully, and I feel like it has been a true team effort. Of all the teams I have coached this one has the best team chemistry. They are a close-knit group. They take the work seriously, they take the sport seriously but they don't take themselves seriously. They know how to have fun, they enjoy each other, they enjoy the sport and they are the most incredible group to coach."
Stanford student-athlete Tabitha Yim
Question: "How has your team used the disappointment of not qualifying for nationals last year to fuel your efforts this season?"
Answer: "Like coach said it was hard to not be here the last two years. We talked about it a lot and at the beginning of the season we had a team meeting where we decided to do everything in our power to make our dreams come true. We made a lot of sacrifices and we pulled together. We have faced a lot of difficulties, but we are ready, happy to be here and can't wait to get started."
UCLA student-athlete Tasha Schwikert
Question: "Can you talk about your floor routine, and how its come along in the last couple weeks of the season?"
A: "I'm feeling great right now with my floor routine. It's been an ongoing thing over the year with Achilles issues with me. I did have a workout where I re-aggravated it, and couldn't compete the next week. I could have gone on it however I probably wouldn't be here had I. So we sat out six weeks and now I'm ready to go. The doctor said for the floor exercises I should tape both ankles so I have been."
Oregon State Head Coach Tanya Chaplin
Question: "Oregon State's appearance at last year's championships was its first since 2002. Do you think the recent experience at nationals will be helpful to this year's team?"
Answer: "Definitely. Any time you make it to the national championship, the experiences you have at that championship help you the next season. It's always a continual building process. It's something that definitely made a difference with this year's team right from the beginning. As soon as we were finished competing in the first session at last year's nationals, our athletes made sure that they watched the Super Six and took notes all the way through the evening. They met the next week and constantly throughout the spring, because we don't get out of school until June so we're at school a little bit longer than a lot of these other teams. But it made a big difference over the summer and fall. I think that drive and determination that they had from last season made a big difference in this season's team. So I'm really excited. That's the other thing, too. Last year, it felt like the way we got in to nationals was Stanford made some mistakes and the door opened. We were able to walk through that door. This year, we felt like this is meant to be. We should be here. We're very excited about this opportunity and they're ready to go after it. This team's ready to go and we're thrilled to be here."
Oregon State Student-Athlete Yuki Lamb
Question: "Are your expectations different this year than last, when OSU was somewhat of a surprise qualifier?"
Answer: "Absolutely. I believe so. I think we are coming in this year a lot more confident and we do have higher expectations for ourselves this year. I think that we're wanting to come in and better our finish from last year. We did finish 11th last year and I think all of us believe we can do much better and that we're capable of doing. As long as we do what we have been doing all season. I think we've worked very hard this year and we are capable of finishing better than we did last year. I think our routines are cleaner. We've got bigger skills. We have experience as well. Most of us have been on the national championship floor and I think that makes a big difference."
Nebraska Head Coach Dan Kendig
Question: "How do you think this year's preliminary field stacks up to other sessions you've faced at past national championships?"
Answer: "I think each and every year the competition is tough. I feel this year it is equally as challenging, obviously. I feel like when you get to this point, every athlete has the potential of scoring 9.85 or better on each routine they do. If they do that all the way through, that's a 197. I just feel like that kind of puts everybody in that same place. It's just going to come down to who puts those routines together and who can get some momentum going, get the landings and make things happen for them. I think each and every year it is competitive and it does get tougher and tougher."
Nebraska Student-Athlete Emily Parsons
Question: "Your team has really gotten on a roll during the postseason. What do you think is the most important factor for Nebraska to qualify for the Super Six in a challenging preliminary field?"
Answer: "I think for us the most important thing tomorrow will be to stay together as a team, stay confident, stay within the meet as a team and just focusing on not getting ahead of ourselves. We've been working really hard in the gym, working on one routine at a time and taking things slow. I think as long as we focus on what we need to get done we'll be successful."
Georgia Head Coach Suzanne Yoculan
Question: "Your team has won the last two national championships. What are some similarities or differences between this team and those?"
Answer: "There are a lot of the same faces certainly on this team that were on the last two. Katie Heenan and ... well, that changed thi week. We have a lot of similar faces that were on the championship team last year. We have sophomores Courtney Kupets, Tiffany Tolnay and Katie Heenan. All three are back from last year with experience and competed last year for the championship team. They have a lot of experience at this level, not just competing, but winning. We have a lot of experience, so that is definitely a similarity. One of the biggest differences is definitely injuries. We did not have to dodge bullets very much the last two years. We were able to get into a rhythm and develop our team as a process, the way everyone wants to develop their team throughout the season instead of spending all your time making adjustments and dodging bullets. So that's probably the biggest difference this year. The bottom line is we made the necessary adjustments in our lineup. But our intentions are the same. The intentions are the same all three years and our attitude is exactly the same. The Georgia team will come out fighting like they always do. I feel very confident they will compete very hard until Courtney Kupets dismounts the bars on Thursday afternoon."
Question: "As two-time defending champion that it's yours to defend? Is there any kind of attitude?"
Answer: "The media just has a whole lot of fun, talking about building the pressure and making something out of nothing. They like streaks, like to talk about repeats, like to talk about underdogs and all the different stories. Really in gymnastics if you see the common thread with all the athletes, it's to keep your focus on yourself, to hit 24 routines. You hear the comments all the time. We don't have defense, so there's no reason to focus on or be concerned with anyone else. With that said, you know my personality and personally get a lot of hype and enthusiasm out of the competition. I love the pressure and thrive under the pressure. I have a difficult time coaching any of our teams without talking about opposition. I love the fact that Florida is on a roll. I give them credit for that. They've certainly earned where they are in their consistency and the way they've competed throughout the season. They've stayed injury-free and that's part of doing your job coaching. It's a credit to them they've been able to do that. With that said, I still think in a lot of ways Georgia is still the team to beat. Let's face it everybody does want to beat Georgia. I mean it is just like everyone wanted to beat Steve Spurrier at Florida. That's just the way it is. We're the most recent winner, so we're the team everybody else wants to beat. Next year it will be somebody else or maybe it will be Georgia again. Who knows? I don't see it as pressure. Being unprepared is when the pressure really feels the worst to me and we're very prepared. Florida, to me, does not play into that dynamic ... or Alabama or Utah or anyone. No one plays into that dynamic for us. Like I said, the enthusiasm is definitely drawn from the competition. When the Utah fans are out there screaming and yelling, that gets my feathers riled up. I love those moments. I love to coach those moments. I love to get in the face of an athlete when they've had a hard time and pull them back up. I know there will be a need for that throughout this competition, because it is going to be long. Like I said, it is going to come down - for Georgia - when Courtney Kupets dismounts those bars. We won't let up until the end."
Georgia Student-Athlete Katie Heenan
Question: "You enter this meet tied for first in the nation in the all-around rankings. Does that, combined with recent injuries to two of your teammates, put any additional pressure on you?
Answer: "I think we've been preaching our depth all year and now we get to put it to the test. The two that did get injured have been the best athletes on the sidelines since their injuries and have been pushing all of us, getting us all up for the meet and ready to go. I think there's pressure at every meet, but there's no more though. It is exactly what Suzanne said. Our intentions are the same, no matter what."
Question: "With so much talk about this being Florida's championship to lose, coming in undefeated, are you guys feeling as two-time defending champion that it's yours to defend? Is there any kind of attitude at all?"
Answer: "It is ours to defend. We still hold the title as of today, after last year. But it's a new season, a new year, new team and we're strong. We're ready to go."
Alabama Head Coach Sarah Patterson
Question: "Alabama is competing in its 25th consecutive NCAA Championship. Does that milestone make this one special for you?"
Answer: "It definitely does. One of our former alumni sent me an e-mail (and said) this is the site of our first national championship and the first time we ever competed 25 years ago. I think it is just an honor to be here. Only the University of Utah has a longer streak. I can tell you to be at the 25th championship is equally as gratifying as it was 25 years ago."
Alabama Student-Athlete Terin Humphrey
Question: "You had surgery on both elbows in the fall and still competed in every meet - going all-around in all but one - and your coach says you're close to your Olympic form. Talk about how you feel going into the championships.
Answer: "After having surgery in the beginning of the season, my elbows feel so much better. I can move them more. I have more range of motion and not as much pressure on my arms. I think our team is going to turn out great. We're excited to be here and can't wait to compete."