Jan. 11, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - Since arriving on The Farm in 2002, head coach Thom Glielmi has built Stanford men's gymnastics into an elite program. Finishing in the top-three at the NCAA Team Championships for six consecutive seasons, the Cardinal has captured two of the past three NCAA team titles. The ascension to national powerhouse began with the 2002-03 team that built the foundation of high expectations for Stanford gymnastics that has become the lifeblood of the pre-season No. 4 ranked Cardinal.
The squad that brought home the university's 100th national championship last season will be challenged to continue it's success after losing All-Americans Alex Buscaglia, Josh Dixon, Tim Gentry, Ryan Lieberman and Abhinav Ramani. Fielding a squad of 13 gymnasts in a sport that allows 15 members to travel to events, the team must find a way to make up for its lack of depth.
"We need guys to be ready, even if they're in the seventh spot of the lineup in a sport that has six competitors," Glielmi said. "We may need them to step in and compete. We're going to be calling on our all-around gymnasts this year a lot and that really takes a lot out of them."
If losing so many key competitors from last year worries Glielmi, it doesn't show.
"Our goal is always an NCAA championship," he said. "Regardless of how we finish in the dual-meet and regular season, the guys need to come away from each competition knowing what they need to do to improve and be the best they can be at their events. We'll be strategic when we use guys and be ready to go come postseason."
Glielmi, a two-time College Gymnastics Association National Coach of the Year has assembled a strong supporting cast including 2011 College Gymnastics Association Regional Assistant Coach of the Year Brett McClure and former Stanford All-Americans Buscaglia and Lieberman.
"Brett did an amazing job last season and having Ryan and Alex around has been great," said Glielmi. "They're a great influence, they can demonstrate skills for the guys and they know what Stanford gymnastics is all about and have no reservations holding guys to the standard that's been established here."
Pommel Horse: The Cardinal returns a strong pommel horse group led by All-Americans John Martin and Chris Turner. Martin set the team season-high score of 15.300 at the 2011 Big Flipoff and was a 2010 All-American as a redshirt freshman. Turner finished fourth at the 2011 NCAA Event Finals with a 15.000, tying a career-high for the first All-America honor of his career. Gabriel Alvarado is expected to play a prominent role with a technically difficult routine and freshman Brian Knott could be a top-four scorer in the event if he continues to improve on his execution. Jordan Nolff and Sean Senters are expected to challenge for spots in the starting lineup as well.
Floor Exercise: Three-time All-American Eddie Penev will be counted on to lead the squad after the departure of All-Americans Buscaglia, Dixon and Gentry. Penev posted a season-best 15.950 at NCAA Finals in 2011 after a second-place finish in 2010 with a career-high 16.000. Cale Robinson was a top performer early last season before suffering a knee injury and may not be routine-ready for a good part of the season. Senters has exhibited clean routines with good difficulty and will also figure into the mix as will Nolff who competed twice in floor last season.
Parallel Bars: All-American Cameron Foreman, Brian Knott and Penev top the parallel bars squad with routines high in difficulty and execution expected to improve throughout the season. Foreman should make another run at All-American after increasing his strength and confidence in the off-season with Knott and Penev right behind him.
Vault: The squad has four athletes capable of putting up big scores in vault, with Penev, Robinson, and Senters leading the way and Nolff continuing to improve his execution of a difficult vault. Penev put up a season-best 16.300 against California last season and won the individual national title as a freshman in 2010 with a 16.450 at the NCAA Event Finals.
High Bar: Foreman brings a challenging routine with high difficulty and Martin looks poised to break out once his endurance catches up to his skill level. Paul Hichwa has looked strong early on, executing well on a consistent basis. He posted a career-best 15.200 at Nebraska in 2011.
Still Rings: James Fosco and Nolff are the clear leaders in rings where the Cardinal's lack of depth could be an issue. Fosco posted a 15.600 at California and the MPSF Championships last season. Other athletes have showed good execution thus far but lack the degree of difficulty that results in higher start scores.
All-Around: The lack of depth on this year's squad will test Glielmi's ability to use his athletes efficiently throughout the season. Penev is the only returning gymnast who posted an All-Around score last season with an 85.600 at the Gold Country Classic. The team will count on a number of gymnasts to compete in all six events throughout the season as the lineup evolves.
The defending NCAA champions remain a hungry group that wants to continue the tradition of success established a decade ago, which should make for an exciting 2012 season. As they progress towards another shot at an NCAA championship under the steady hand of Glielmi, the upcoming season will draw on the team-oriented philosophy and individual success that has defined the program in recent years.