March 24, 2012
SALT LAKE CITY - If there is one overriding feeling for the Stanford women’s gymnastics team after its fourth-place finish at the Pac-12 Championships on Saturday, it’s this: Hope.
In a performance that was at times “phenomenal,” in the words of coach Kristen Smyth, Stanford led throughout the meet at the Huntsman Center until struggling on the final rotation, on the uneven bars, which had been the team’s best event.
Forced to count a fall as one of its five scores, Stanford fell in the final results, though the Cardinal still earned its highest score of the season, 196.825 points, and captured two individual titles.
UCLA (197.425) won its 16th Pac-12 title, with Utah (197.375) in second and Oregon State (197.025) in third.
“I thought we had a great meet on three events,” Smyth said. “Best three events we've had all year. Last event, bars, has typically been our best event. So it was extremely uncharacteristic.”
The sense of hope comes from the emergence of a team that had 11 scores of 9.90 or above, including five on the balance beam and three on vault. Its team scores of 49.500 on beam, 49.450 on vault and 49.425 on floor all were season bests.
The team was on pace for its highest score since 2008. Though it didn't finish it off, Stanford matched its best score since Feb. 27, 2011, and clearly is peaking as it heads into the NCAA regionals coming April 7 and the NCAA Championships April 20-22.
“All these things that we’ve dealt with throughout the year have made us stronger as a team and extremely hungry for success,” said Smyth, whose Cardinal finally is getting healthy after dealing with several off-season and early-season injuries.
Stanford nearly did on Saturday. As the No. 4 seed, the Cardinal unexpectedly bolted into the lead with its highest score in any event this season – the 49.500 on beam, an event in which the Cardinal had averaged 48.900.
Freshman Rebecca Wing led off with a career-high 9.90 and the entire lineup, save a single 9.85, followed suit.
“They really competed aggressively,” Smyth said. “They just dominated that event and it really set the tone for the rest of the meet. I felt they really kept building after that. There was so much excitement, energy, and momentum.”
It continued on floor, where Morgan took sole possession of the floor title by matching her season and collegiate career best of 9.950, with senior teammate Nicole Pechanec second at 9.925. Morgan’s victory marked the fourth consecutive floor title for Stanford, extending a streak that began with Carly Janiga’s titles in 2009 and 2010.
And it continued on vault, where Hong led a Stanford charge with another 9.950. Hong, the 2009 U.S. senior national champion on vault and beam, scored a collegiate career high to tie for first on vault with UCLA’s Olivia Courtney and Vanessa Zamarripa.
After three rotations, Stanford had 148.375 points, to UCLA’s 148.050, Utah’s 147.850, and Oregon State’s 147.825. All three opponents are ranked among the nation’s top 10.
But the Cardinal suffered two falls on the final rotation, bars, to score 48.450, its lowest score of the season on that event. Meanwhile, UCLA scored 49.375 on the beam to grab hold of the lead and the title.
Hope. There’s that word again.
Stanford again moved another gymnast into the lineup, this time Alyssa Brown on bars for the first time after an off-season shoulder injury. Though she scored 9.625, Smyth said it was important to have the experience of at least one meet before the team faces NCAA competition. Brown, a senior, has a career best of 9.900 in that event, giving Stanford even more potential points. Plus, the gymnasts continue to add difficulty to their routines.
Perhaps its no surprise that the undergraduates continue to come into their own. Hong, in addition to her vault, matched her best of 9.90 on beam and set a best on floor, with a 9.875. Amanda Spinner, a sophomore who was out with an injury as a freshman, matched her best on beam, with a 9.90.
Morgan matched her career-best on bars (9.90) and had a 9.85 on vault.
“Ashley was lights-out tonight,” Smyth said. “And Ivana was amazing. There were a lot of great performances, but those two stuck out in my mind.”
For all the disappointment of the team’s finish, there was at least as much optimism about its future.
“There were a lot of great things we can take with us,” Smyth said. “We made some great steps. It’s getting better all the time.
“I believe this is one of the best teams in the country. We just have to prove it.”
Final team scores:
Winners and Stanford scores:
Vault: 1 (tie), Ivana Hong (Stanford), Olivia Courtney (UCLA), Vanessa Zamarripa (UCLA), each 9.950. Stanford: Alyssa Brown 9.900, Nicole Dayton 9.900, Ashley Morgan 9.850, Pauline Hanset 9.850, Nicole Pechanec 9.800.
All-Around: 1, Corrie Lothrop (Utah) 39.625. Stanford: Nicole Pechanec 38.800.
Record: Stanford 14-6.
Note: The meet will air on Comast SportsNet Bay Area on Sunday, April 1, at 1 p.m.