Two similarities between John Wooden and Valorie Kondos Field became obvious, as Kondos Field coached her final UCLA gymnastics meet in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday.
The first was the passion each evoked from UCLA fans in Pauley. Wooden cemented UCLA’s reputation as a basketball school. Now, Kondos Field has done the same with gymnastics. She has filled the stands with historic crowds, including the 12,270 fans who watched the Bruins defeat Utah State 197.575-194.850.
The second similarity came as a white strip was peeled from the gymnastics floor before the meet, revealing the newly named Valorie Kondos Field Floor. Gymnasts of the future will tumble and dance beside her name, as the Bruins’ basketball players compete on John Wooden Court.
Both are officially UCLA legends.
As the end of her 29th year as head coach approaches, the coach who dances with the student section and implores her athletes to circle the stands giving high-fives has bid farewell to Pauley Pavilion.
“I’ve spent my lifetime here,” Kondos Field said. “I’ve spent my whole life at UCLA. And what a blessing.”
UCLA gymnastics alumni filled the stands, and broke into a flash mob on the floor once the meet was done. “Amazing,” Kondos Field described their dance, drawing out the word.
At first, the Bruins made uncharacteristic mistakes in the meet, with two falls on the uneven bars and one on vault. Two of those falls were from Kyla Ross. But she didn’t stay down for long.
“I knew that I had to get it back for my team,” Ross said.
She responded with a team-high 9.975 on beam, as the Bruins scored a 49.450 in that rotation. Then came floor.
The perfect 10 on floor that has eluded Ross her entire career finally came. She leaped when she saw her score. It was her seventh straight week with a 10, making her the only gymnast in the country to earn a perfect score in every rotation.
Katelyn Ohashi was last.
“Knowing Miss Val and I are going out the same time, and being able to celebrate her, is so amazing,” Ohashi said.
Since her floor routine has gone viral, Ohashi has drawn spectators by the thousands in every UCLA meet this season. She has fed off the energy of Pauley, and did the same on this final home performance, in celebration of Kondos Field. In an interview with Pac-12 Networks, she said of Kondos Field, “She’s my mom, she’s my coach. She’s basically like my best friend.”
Ohashi stuck every landing flawlessly, for her fifth perfect 10 of the season.
UCLA earned a 49.825 on floor, the third-highest score in program history. A performance that was the exclamation point on a meet Kondos Field surely will never forget.
“I mean, what a great tribute to,” Kondos Field said before pausing, “me. Miss Val.”
Now the Bruins’ focus shifts to the postseason, to the Pac-12 and NCAA championships. One more month of floor routines, impromptu dances and goodbyes for Kondos Field.
“It’s not the gymnastics part of it that’s the fun, like icing part,” Kondos Field said. “But it’s helping young women really find their inner light, their strength, their courage to dream big.”