April 18, 2009
LINCOLN, Neb. - Stanford junior Carly Janiga, feeling no pressure, scored a 9.9125 on the uneven bars to place second at the NCAA Individual Event Finals on Saturday at the Bob Devaney Athletic Center.
It marked the highest finish ever by a Stanford gymnast in that event and marked the school's best finish in any event since 2001.
"There was no pressure," Janiga said. "It's not like you don't care, but it felt so weird that I wasn't nervous. I get so nervous for team competitions. I care so much more about that than about an individual title."
Janiga finished behind only Courtney Kupets, the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist on bars and a three-time NCAA all-around champion for Georgia. Kupets scored a 9.95 on bars and went on to capture four of the five individual titles, as well as the team crown.
Stanford senior Nicole Ourada placed 10th in the same event, scoring 9.8125 to give Stanford two top-10 finishers on bars in the same year for the second time in school history, and first time since 2004.
The routine marked the final collegiate performance for Ourada, whose seven All-America selections are the fourth-highest total in school history.
For both, it provided a positive end to a season that took a disappointing turn when the Cardinal failed to qualify for the Super Six by 0.075 of a point at the team preliminaries on Thursday. Perhaps more disappointing than not qualifying was that the team felt it didn't perform to its potential during the postseason and talked about that in a meeting Friday night after watching the Super Six from the stands.
"We're hungry for next year," Smyth said.
Performing as individuals for the first time all season, both Janiga and Ourada said they felt more relaxed than in any meet all season. Smyth said that wasn't surprising.
"Stanford gymnastics is not about individual honors," she said. "It's wonderful to get those things, but for them, the pressure is about doing well as a team."
Janiga performed the same routine she's performed all season, one highlighted by a still handstand on the top bar. And her landing was perfect.
Janiga ran off the floor, with a huge smile, while pumping her fist in triumph. Though she admitted doing that routinely as a way to sell the judges on a strong performance, this had some genuine feeling.
"She had great lines, great artistry," Smyth said. "Her handstands and dismount were about as good as you can get. She gave the judges no reasons to deduct points. And she's been doing it all year."
It was her eighth score of 9.9 or higher all season, and she reached 9.85 in all 12 of her meets. Her previous best NCAA placing was fourth in the all-around in 2007 as a freshman.
She gave a moment of thought during warmups to this being the final competitive routine of her life, but the moment quickly passed.
"The hardest part was not being able to compete with my teammates on the floor," she said.
But their success was shared by their teammates, seated just above the bars apparatus in the first rows of seats.
"Nikki will be impossible to replace," Smyth said. "She gave a tremendous amount to this program. She's a hard-working kid with the best attitude you can hope for. Great smile. She never had a bad day. Or, at least she didn't show it. She will be missed."
With that, Stanford ends one season in style, and considers the possibilities for the next. Asked when the team will begin looking toward 2010, Smyth didn't hesitate.
"Yesterday," she said.