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UCLA hires former Cal assistant Janelle McDonald as its new gymnastics coach

(Jesus Ramirez / UCLA Athletics)

As UCLA fell from the top of the Pac-12’s gymnastics ranks in recent years, California moved in to fill the void. While the Bruinsfailed to advance to the NCAA championship, the Golden Bears put together their best season in school history in 2021 and won their first Pac-12 title, sharing the regular season crown in 2022.

In need of a fresh start, the Bruins turned to their in-state rivals for their next leader.

UCLA hired California assistant coach Janelle McDonald to take over its gymnastics program on Monday, hoping a new voice can help one of the school’s most popular teams regain its championship luster.

“Janelle has been exemplary at connecting with and developing young people at every level of her coaching career,” athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement. “Her enthusiasm and energy is contagious. She understands and respects the Bruin legacy and the commitment to excellence this program deserves as one of the best in the country.”

The previous coaching staff, led by Chris Waller, lasted only three seasons after Waller abruptly resigned at the end of the 2022 season.

While Waller’s extensive resume included NCAA championships as a competitor on UCLA’s men’s gymnastics team and an Olympic all-around final appearance in 1992 before becoming the top assistant under former UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field, McDonald did not compete collegiately. She attended Arizona State, where she interned with the gymnastics program in 2010.

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However, she is an experienced club coach, working at top gyms including Desert Lights in Arizona Object — which produced Olympian MyKayla Skinner — and Texas powerhouse WOGA. The famous gym outside of Dallas has trained stars like Katelyn Ohashi and Madison Kocian.

“I’ve known Janelle for quite some time now. It’s been amazing watching her grow as a coach and seeing the way she can add to a college team,” Ohashi said in a statement to UCLA. “Change is always exciting, and so is a new perspective. I can’t wait to see where she leads this team.”

McDonald joined Cal’s staff in 2018, specializing in bars. In 2021, she earned her second regional assistant coach of the year award as the Bears made their fourth NCAA championship appearance while setting program records on bars, beam and floor and in overall team score. McDonald coached the top-ranked bars squad in the country, led by individual NCAA champion Maya Bordas, Cal’s first ever individual NCAA champion. Cal tied a 17-year-old NCAA record on bars with a 49.825 mark in a meet against UCLA.

UCLA gymnastics coach Chris Waller is resigning effective immediately, the school announced Tuesday, bringing his three-year tenure to an abrupt end.

“My experiences in Berkeley and with the student-athletes on the Cal gymnastics team have pushed me to become a better version of myself and have prepared me to take on this new opportunity,” McDonald said in a statement to UCLA. “I cannot wait to get started with our team and build with them a culture that will honor and continue the great history of this program.”

Cal nearly ended its women’s gymnastics program in 2010 because of budget cuts, but the Bears are now one of the top teams in the Pac-12 under co-head coaches Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall Howell. The program attracted former elite stars like Andi Li, whose older sister Anna once starred at UCLA, and incoming freshman eMjae Frazier, who competed at the world championships for the United States in 2021. She is also the younger sister of former UCLA star Margzetta Frazier.

Margzetta Frazier, a senior famous for her viral Janet Jackson floor routine, openly called for a coaching change during an appearance on actress Amanda Seales’ podcast during the season amid controversy about how Waller and his staff handled a preseason incident in which a former gymnast used racist language. Tension among gymnasts and coaches lingered throughout the season as the Bruins missed the NCAA championship cut by 0.025 points in the NCAA regional final. It was the first time in program history that UCLA hadn’t competed as a team at the national meet in back-to-back years.


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