Jan. 28, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY - With no room for failure and 13,835 sets of eyes on her, senior captain Danielle Ikoma didn’t flinch.
With the meet in the balance, she nailed her balance beam routine to give No. 2 Stanford a pressure-packed 196.825-196.500 women’s gymnastics victory over No. 4 Utah at the Huntsman Center on Friday night.
With the teams deadlocked going into the final rotation – the beam for Stanford and the floor exercise for Utah -- Stanford suffered a blow when its third gymnast fell. Because five of the six scores count, the Cardinal could not afford another miss.
Instead, Ashley Morgan followed with a 9.90, and Shelley Alexander scored a 9.80. That left the meet up to Ikoma. A fall would doom Stanford, a clean routine would win it. Ikoma stayed focused and aggressive and tied her career-best with a 9.875 to ensure the victory.
“They never backed down, they never gave up,” Stanford coach Kristen Smyth said of her beam performers. “They fought for everything.”
That included Ikoma, who was not in the original lineup. After competing in four events against UCLA on Sunday followed by a hard week of training, and three more events Friday, Ikoma was “exhausted,” Smyth said.
“She’d been going hard since September. When she finished the floor, her legs looked tired. I was going to pull her out.”
Ikoma wanted to compete, but freshman Shona Morgan was put into the No. 6 spot in the lineup, ready to make her collegiate debut. After the fall, however, Smyth reconsidered.
“She has a tremendous amount of mental toughness,” Smyth said. “I have a lot of confidence in Dani. She has such heart. She’ll never back down.”
Stanford’s beam score of 49.325 bettered Utah’s 49.000 to give the Cardinal (8-0) the victory over Utah (3-1), nicknamed the Red Rocks, in a matchup between 2010 NCAA Super Six finalists.
To illustrate how clutch Stanford’s performance was, the Cardinal’s beam score was its highest in any event of the season, while having to overcoming the team’s first fall this year.
Ishino went on to win the all-around with a career-best 39.475, and finished with three victories. She also won the uneven bars (9.90) and finished in a three-way tie with Ashley Morgan, and Utah’s Mary Beth Lofgren for first on the beam (9.90).
In three meets, Morgan turned in her third 9.925 on the floor, undoubtedly keeping her No. 1 national ranking for highest average score in the event.
“She is the whole package,” Smyth said. “Not only does she have the sky-high tumbling, but she’s a great performer.”
Alexander captured the vault with a season-best 9.90, to give Stanford a sweep of the event victories.
“We’re probably not going to get an experience like this the rest of the year,” Smyth said. “This will probably be the largest crowd and, going one at a time, this was the most pressure you’re going to feel as an athlete.
“We’ve had a great January, and it’s a long season. But I’m proud of where we are right now.”
Next for Stanford is a home dual meet against San Jose State at Burnham Pavilion on Saturday, Feb. 5 at 4 p.m.
Final score: Stanford 196.825, Utah 196.500
Vault (winner and Stanford): 1, Shelley Alexander (Stanford) 9.900. Stanford: Alyssa Brown 9.875, Danielle Ikoma 9.850, Allyse Ishino 9.850, Nicole Dayton 9.750, Ashley Morgan 9.725. Team: Utah 49.275, Stanford 49.225.
Uneven Bars (winner and Stanford): 1, Allyse Ishino (Stanford) 9.900. Stanford: Alyssa Brown 9.875, Nicole Pechanec 9.800, Kristina Vaculik 9.800, Shelley Alexander 9.775, Danielle Ikoma 9.675. Team: Stanford 49.150, Utah 49.075.
Balance Beam (winners and Stanford): 1 (tie), Allyse Ishino (Stanford), Ashley Morgan (Stanford), and Mary Beth Lofgren (Utah), each 9.900. Stanford: Danielle Ikoma 9.875, Alyssa Brown 9.850, Shelley Alexander 9.800, Kristina Vaculik 9.200. Team: Stanford 49.325, Utah 49.150.
Floor Exercise (winner and Stanford): 1, Ashley Morgan (Stanford) 9.925. Stanford: Allyse Ishino 9.825, Nicole Pechanec 9.825, Shelley Alexander 9.800, Nicole Dayton 9.750, Danielle Ikoma 9.725. Team: Stanford 49.125, Utah 49.000.
Records: Stanford (8-0), Utah (3-1).