Why Canadians Pick UCLA

Ana Padurariu recently announced her commitment to UCLA. For NCAA gymnastics this is pretty much par the course as Padurariu is Canadian and UCLA has long been the preferred destination for Canadian gymnasts. Padurariu is the latest gymnast in a long list of Canadians competing for UCLA:

Ana Padurariu
Christine Peng Peng Lee
Sydney Sawa
Mikaela Gerber
Aisha Gerber
Ti Liu
Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs
Marci Bernholtz
Ashley Peckett
Kate Richardson
Yvonne Tousek
Brooklyn Moors
Stella Umeh
Leah Homma
Lena Degteva

The trend of Canadian gymnasts competing for UCLA goes all the way back to the early 1990s. In almost every year since the late 1990s, at least one Canadian has been on the UCLA roster. But why is this the case?

Ten years ago the Daily Bruin asked this same question and produced two interesting comments.

The first comment was made by former UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field who is widely known as “Miss Val.”

“(Homma’s club) coach and I coached very similarly and have the same personality,” Kondos Field said. “She felt very comfortable sending athletes to us and over the years they’ve just been really good athletes.”

Ana Padurariu

In other words, trust. High school and club coaches have considerable influence in steering an athlete to a particular school in every NCAA sport. They want was is best for their athletes and if a club/high school coach has seen a college coach treat their former pupils well, they will gladly keep steering athletes to that particular program.

And once a particular college coach has developed a positive reputation, her influence will spread. That’s what happened to Miss Val and Canada as word spread all throughout the Canadian program about UCLA being a great option.

But the trust works both ways. If a college coach is contacted by a club coach, he or she will pay more attention if it is someone they have an established relationship with. Only a minority of club coaches will have a pupil who makes it to the national team. The vast majority of club coaches measure their success not in how many national team members they produce, but how many kids they get to the NCAA.

For most club coaches, their careers and thus their ability to get more parents to sign their kids up for gymnastics classes depends heavily on how many kids they send to college. The more scholarship athletes they produce, the easier it is to attract more parents willing to pay for their services.

This system also incentivizes club/high school coaches to mislead college coaches and exaggerate the skill set of their prospective athletes. So if a college coach knows a particular club coach, and every athlete that club coach has recommended in the past went on to be successful, the college coach (Miss Val) is going to listen the next time she gets another recommendation from that same club coach.

The second comment came from former UCLA gymnast Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs:

“We’ve had a whole bunch of girls … that went to UCLA and came back to Canada and told us how much they enjoyed it,” Hopfner-Hibbs said. “Right away I knew that that was the school I wanted to go to.

In other words, social factors. Canadian gymnastics who attend UCLA knowing that they are going to a program with a friend joining them. And that often makes a huge difference.

Brooklyn Moors

Not only do Canadians attend UCLA, many of them opt to remain in the Los Angeles area after finishing their college career. This was a factor specifically cited by Brooklyn Moors as part of her consideration in selecting UCLA. But there is also an advantage when it comes to gymnasts of different generations.

For young athletes, role models have a huge impact on their thought process. When young athletes select their role models, they often choose those with the closest background. Young Canadian gymnasts identify with fellow Canadian gymnasts. They are more likely to want to follow the footsteps of the Canadian gymnasts they grew up idolizing. And that often involves attending UCLA.

Lastly, a young Canadian prospect is simply more likely to pay attention to a college program with Canadians on it. They want to know how their former teammate (who is a few years older) is doing. So they follow the scores. They follow their social media accounts and see how much fun the UCLA team is having at parties. And when the Canadians return home when school is out, they hear these stories first hand and it results in even more positive feedback about UCLA.

This second quote from Hopfner-Hibbs is far more important. With Miss Val gone, UCLA’s Canadian pipeline dries up with her without the social factors. But the social factors are not dependent on a specific coach and is something that remains even after the departure of Miss Val. The commitment of Ana Padurariu proves that the Canadian pipeline can survive in the post-Miss Val era.

Peng Peng Lee

The previously mentioned factors makes UCLA the program that gets its foot in the door first, and sometimes that’s all a college program needs if it wants to win over a recruit. Peng Peng Lee immediately fell in love with UCLA and didn’t even bother looking at other programs. Peng Peng Lee was a child prodigy within the Canadian system. She first came to the attention of Miss Val while she was scouting one of Peng’s older clubmates.

Peng Peng Lee is the ultimate case study as to why the Canadian-UCLA pipeline has worked so well in the past. Miss Val had already seen Peng Peng Lee’s raw physical talent in person before rival coaches had even heard her name. The rest of the NCAA never had a chance.

In the case of Brooklyn Moors, there is no need to speculate as to whether or not this same concept applied to her. She said it herself.

“(UCLA) was always my dream school. So I figured I would either go there or not at all.”

UCLA essentially has first dibs on Canadian gymnasts and every other college program is playing catch up when it comes to recruiting Canadians. College gymnastics of the past two decades can be summed up by saying:

Canadians going to UCLA

What the future holds for Brooklyn Moors and Ana Padurariu at UCLA is unknown. But if their careers are anything like Peng’s college career, Moors and Padurariu will go on to be a key members of the UCLA team. Peng Peng Lee’s services proved invaluable to UCLA as the Bruins won an NCAA title in Peng’s final year. One of the many examples where the Canadian pipeline has been a core reason for UCLA having one of the most successful programs in women’s gymnastics.


3 thoughts on “Why Canadians Pick UCLA

  1. I’m trying to remember the non-UCLA Canadians from the international level and there sure aren’t many! The only ones I can think of:
    Shanyn MacEachern – LSU
    Kim Allan & Veronique Leclerc – Utah
    Stacey Galloway – Georgia
    Jennifer Exaltacion – Stanford?


  2. In the 1980s a lot of top Canadian gymnasts went to University of Florida. I was coaching as part of my Masters program at UWO 1981-3 in Canada and got to know a lot of the club elites in the area. I moved to the states and ended up at UF for my PT degree in 1987 . I was surprised to know so many of the gymnasts on the team. Ernestine Weaver (I think) was a Canadian Brevit judge and the UF coach. She recruited heavily in Canada.


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