March 9, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. - With three schools locked solidly into the nation's Top 10, and three more among the top 30, the Pacific-10 Conference Women's Gymnastics Championships could be a wide open affair.
Defending champion Stanford has won three of the past five championships, UCLA owns 13 titles and 2008 runner-up Oregon State has won four.
Individually, five Pac-10 champions could be back to either defend their titles or attempt to regain them. Overall, 10 All-Americans could take the Pac-10 stage, totaling 23 All-America honors. Of those, six are first-team selections who have earned a total of 11 first-team spots.
Every year since 1999, a team score of at least 197 points has been required to win. Stanford is one team capable of hitting that number, having reached it in three consecutive February meets.
Stanford, which finished third in the nation last year and is ranked No. 3, features four All-Americans and opened with a school-record 12 consecutive victories. Three all-arounders have exceeded 39.3 points -- Carly Janiga, Nicole Ourada and Shelley Alexander -- and depth is a strength.
The Cardinal (13-2) has been getting solid scores from throughout the lineup and is fortunate to count on the likes of veterans Kelly Fee, Allyse Ishino and Heather Purnell when the team needs a clutch performance.
This will be Stanford's first head-to-head competition against No. 7 UCLA this season. The Bruins were scheduled to come to Stanford on Feb. 8, but were forced to withdraw when most of the team fell ill.
Now comes the opportunity for that long-awaited dual. Three-time first-team All-American Anna Li is the most decorated and one of the most courageous, earning All-America honors in the vault last season despite suffering from an ankle injury that required surgery.
The Bruins' chances have been bolstered by two outstanding freshmen. Vanessa Zamarripa has scored three 10s on the vault this season, tying her for the national lead in perfect scores. No other gymnast has earned a 10 on vault, or achieved multiple 10s on one event. And Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, a 2008 Canadian Olympian and world championship medalist, has proven to be the Bruins' most consistent all-around performer.
Both UCLA and Stanford have beaten Oregon State in duals this season, but the Beavers seem capable of reversing those results, especially with senior Mandi Rodriguez leading the team. Rodriguez has a high of 39.5 in the all-around and has the conference's highest Regional Qualifying Score, maintaining a narrow margin over Janiga, Hopfner-Hibbs and Jami Lanz, an Oregon State teammate.
Lanz holds the distinction of being the top returning all-around performer from the 2008 championships, having placed second to Stanford senior Tabitha Yim. Lanz tied Janiga for the balance beam crown last season and the title could again be decided by that rivalry.
The Beavers also are hopeful for the return of senior Tasha Smith, a four-time Pac-10 champion - two each in vault and floor - who has yet to compete this season for personal reasons.
Not to be counted out are Arizona, Washington and Arizona State. Arizona has moved steadily up the rankings all season and appears on the way to clinching its 23rd consecutive NCAA postseason appearance. Sophomore Colleen Fisher has taken on the all-around for the first time and eclipsed 39 points by midway through the season.
Washington showed its potential by beating visiting Oregon State in a Seattle quad meet Feb. 21, getting a boost from sophomore Haley Bogart's 39.125 in her all-around season debut. The Huskies are led by Ashley Houghting, the 2007 Pac-10 vault champion, and a first-team conference performer on the floor last year.
Arizona State's Beaté Jones has the highest team score on vault (9.9) and floor (9.9) and has gathered more scores of 9.9 than any other Sun Devil this season. Nicole Harris has been an all-around standout and is ranked fifth in the conference in that category.
California is led by senior Bridgette Glass, a contender in the vault, bars and beam, and junior Sophia Hocini, the Golden Bears' top all-around performer.