UCLA has a new coach — Other gym news — Thoughts from Janelle McDonald

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, May 14, 2022

So the big gym news this week was the announcement Monday that UCLA hired Janelle McDonald, Cal’s assistant coach for the past four seasons, as their new head coach. I had the opportunity to ask McDonald a few questions Tuesday, and she is this week’s Five at The IX interview (see below). 

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The good news: UCLA, after their turbulent year, needed to clean house, and they did, at least in terms of the head coach job (we’re still waiting to hear if McDonald will install her own staff of assistants, or retain any of UCLA’s current staff). McDonald has no previous ties to the UCLA program and comes very highly praised by gymnasts she has coached in the past at the developmental, elite and college levels.

It’s a particularly noticeable difference in the wake of the Amy Smith hire at Clemson, which was greeted by a wave of gymnasts discussing the abuse they endured under Smith during her previous posts. 

A disclaimer here that of course we never know what skeletons are hiding in whose closet. If we’ve learned nothing else over the last several years, it’s that no coach should be hailed as the very model of a modern gymnastics general. We’ve seen too many coaches – including McDonald’s immediate predecessor at UCLA, Chris Waller – be taken down by their own misdeeds, or their responses to others’ misdeeds, or both. Even ones who seemed “perfect” from afar. Maybe even especially them.  

But the tone around McDonald’s hiring seems to be one of hope. And that is something we haven’t seen in a while. 

The bad news: UCLA is Humpty Dumpty lying on the ground waiting to be put back together again (and we all know what ultimately became of Humpty Dumpty). A new coach is not going to solve the fractures that we know occurred (because Margzetta Frazier, Sekai Wright, and Norah Flatley were brave enough to talk and tweet about them) between the team and its leaders and amongst the team itself. Racism and mental health issues are two things an NCAA gymnastics coach today WILL confront, and they can’t get away with sweeping them under the mats. Can McDonald help this team heal? We hope so. But I also think it’s going to be a while before we see UCLA reach their previous dominance. I hope McDonald is given the benefit of the doubt if the team glue is there but the results aren’t right away. 

The Janelle McDonald hype is real

Cal, and its gymnasts, seem thrilled to send McDonald off to a bigger job: 

Olympian Madison Kocian, who was coached by McDonald in her club days at WOGA in Texas and went on to compete at UCLA, is quoted in support of the hire here

Anna Li, an alternate on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team and a UCLA grad whose parents own Legacy Elite, where McDonald ran the TOPS program, praised McDonald’s hire. Anna’s sister Andi is a current Cal gymnast. 

As did Chris Bogantes, who coached with McDonald at Legacy Elite. 

McDonald met the UCLA team for the first time Monday, and attended her first practice Tuesday.  UCLA made a cool video about it, as they do. 

Other gym news

Speaking of Clemson, they named Erik Lewis as associate head coach. Lewis worked under Amy Smith at Utah State. Reaction has been…mixed. 

Top prospect JaFree Scott signed with Georgia. 

Victoria Nguyen is transferring from Georgia to Florida. Morgan Hurd looks stoked.

Sandra Elsadek is transferring from Ball State to Georgia for her senior year.

Amelie Morgan had ankle surgery.

Lynnzee Brown of Denver will take a sixth year. So happy to see her back on the floor after not one but two Achilles tears.

Oksana Chusovitina appears to have formally un-retired and will pursue a spot at the Paris Olympics in 2024: 

The first episode of The Great Gymnastics Quiz podcast, hosted by gymternet faves Olly Hogben and Blythe Lawrence, dropped Thursday. 

Social media post of the week:

Five at The IX: Janelle McDonald

I was able to participate in a press conference with new UCLA head coach Janelle McDonald on Tuesday. I came away inspired by her energy and eager to see where she takes this program. 

Q: You are taking over a program with a lot of history and a strong reputation. How will you put your stamp on UCLA Gymnastics? 

JM: I’m super inspired by the tradition that’s here. There’s just this overarching tradition of excellence at UCLA, but especially with this program. It’s something that I take very seriously and something I’m excited to continue. I think relying on the people that are here, other head coaches, and really just bringing in the alumni and Miss Val as wel to give me advice to integrate into the Bruin bubble is going to be something that I’m really looking forward and that I’m excited about. 

Q: What quality in your coaching are you most proud of? 

JM: I try to show up every single day with great energy and positively impact the people around me, whether that’s at the gym or at the grocery store. That’s something I’m proud of because I think that it can inspire the people around you when people are showing up with great energy and enthusiasm every day. And so that’s something I really strive to do in and out of the gym every single day. 

Q: What are your short-term goals and your long-term goals for the UCLA program? 

JM: I think right now my short term goal is just to get to know the team. Get to know the girls individually and really figure out who they are and what their goals are and the things that excite them and that they’re fired up to get after. I think that’s something that moving forward is going to really help the long-term goal I have which is to develop a strong inclusive and special environment that is uniquely Bruin. 

Q: What is something you will miss about living in Norcal, and what is something you’re excited for when you move to Socal? 

JM: I’m a people person and so I’m going to miss the people up in Northern California. The views aren’t bad either, you know, being able to see the Bay Area every day. But I’m really excited to come to Southern California. I love the beach, and I’m a big Disney person, so being so close to Disney is exciting for me. And then the people, I’m really excited to meet the people.

Q: Kyana George said you’d never been seen in the gym without a Starbucks cup. What’s your Starbucks order? 

JM: [Laughs] Typically it’s a dirty chai tea latte with oat milk. 

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Written by Lela Moore