April 22, 2010
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -
Carly Janiga finished third in the all-around – the highest all-around finish in Stanford women’s gymnastics history – to lead the Cardinal into the NCAA Super Six finals on Thursday.
Janiga earned three first-team All-American honors at the NCAA team preliminaries at the University of Florida’s O’Connell Center and joined fellow seniors Stephanie Carter, Allyse Ishino, Blair Ryland, and Tenaya West in the only Stanford class to have advanced to the Super Six three times.
Stanford finished with a strong balance beam routine, but had a bye during the sixth and final rotation and had to wait out the conclusion to a tense meet in the locker room before finding out if it had reached the fifth Super Six in Stanford history.
“We’re thankful to be moving on,” Stanford coach Kristen Smyth said. “We’re looking forward for the chance tomorrow to showcase what we’re capable of doing. Hopefully, we got the nerves out and we can start fresh tomorrow.”
Stanford scored 196.300 points, far from its best score. But that shouldn’t overlook the efforts that allowed the Cardinal to stay in position to advance.
• Ryland scored a collegiate career-high 9.925 with a momentum-changing vault, and earned first-team All-America honors for the first time, advancing with Janiga to Saturday’s Individual Event finals.
• Sophomore Jenny Peter, a former walk-on who was a late-season addition to the uneven bars lineup, produced a big 9.825 score to close out Stanford’s rotation when the team could hardly afford anything less.
• And Ishino, who suffered from flu-like symptoms on Wednesday and did not eat all day, rallied from a rough meet with a strong 9.825 on the balance beam, again producing when Stanford needed it the most.
Janiga advanced to the Individual Event Finals in the vault, bars and beam. She tied for first in the session with bars score of 9.90 and had three other 9.875s to finish with an all-around score of 39.525.
She will finish her career with nine All-America honors, tying her with current volunteer assistant coach Lindsay Wing as the third-most decorated gymnast ever at Stanford. Her five first-team All-America honors tie her with Wing and Natalie Foley as the second-highest in that category in Cardinal history.
“She’s just the rock of this team,” Smyth said. She kept it together, maintained her focus. She led us with her words and her actions.
“It’s her character. It’s what she stands for, who she is, what separates her, and what will make her impossible to replace.”
Stanford had problems from the first event, with scores of 9.65 and 9.10 on the floor, normally one of the team’s strongest events. But with Stanford in danger of dropping out of contention early, Ryland produced the vault of her life to get the Cardinal back on track.
“It changed the momentum,” Smyth said. “And for her to make an event final in her senior year, I know how much it means to her because, right now, she’s only doing one event. If it was up to her she’d be doing more. For her to do what she did tonight was incredible for her, and the team.”
During the fourth rotation, the bars for Stanford, the Cardinal suffered a fall and had to count a 9.575 score while Michigan bolted ahead in the team competition for what possibly could have been the final qualifying spot.
But, again, Stanford rebounded thanks to a supreme effort. Peter not only performed well in a clutch situation, but she averted disaster, as assistant coach Chris Swircek saw it.
“She released a little bit early,” Swircek said. “It was really big, but it was pretty far away from the bar. I don’t think she got more than her fingertips on it, and just continued on without any problem.
“I asked her, ‘How did you do that?’ She said, ‘the way you told me to do it.’”
Before the beam, Stanford’s final rotation, Smyth called the team together in the hallway.
“I really felt they needed to know that the meet was not over,” Smyth said.
“We are not done,” Smyth told the team. “And aren’t going away.”
The team followed her lead and scored 49.100, the team’s third-best beam score this season.
“They fought for everything,” Smyth said. “They were tough. They fought to the end.”
Michigan and Missouri were within range, but suffered falls on their final rotation as Stanford waited silently, only to leap, hug, and cry at their good fortune at the end of the meet.
“There were nerves out there and I think everyone felt them,” Janiga said. “Being able to advance is awesome because there’s nothing else to qualify for. There is nothing beyond tomorrow’s finals, so we can just tell each other that it’s all out on the last day of the season.”
Stanford will begin the Super Six on the beam and conclude with the bars on the sixth and final rotation.
“They get another opportunity to show everybody and prove to themselves what a great team they are," Smyth said. "Those kids do not go away. They’re a team that does not back down. They will not back down.”
Friday presents a new day and a new opportunity. After all, the highest scoring team in either session Thursday was UCLA, a team Stanford has beaten twice this year.
“We’re going to have fun,” Smyth said. “We’re going to let go. No more nerves, there’s nothing to lose. It’s an opportunity to leave everything you have out on the floor.
“We’re going to have a good time tomorrow night. Celebrate the year with a great team, and enjoy every second we have together.”
* * *
A chance to shine
Peter’s clutch performance on the uneven bars was especially gratifying because of how far she’s come, and because of her perseverance in overcoming an early-season setback.
First of all, Peter walked on to Stanford, turning down scholarship offers elsewhere, before earning one as a sophomore. But for nearly two full seasons, she barely saw action. As a freshman, she was unable to break into the lineup. And as a sophomore, was prepared to do until injuring an ankle during a December scrimmage at San Jose State.
“She never felt sorry for herself, she never pouted, she just worked,” Swircek said. “She came to Stanford because she really wanted the Stanford experience and was willing to do whatever it took to get it. A lot of times those are the kids that become the most valuable in your program – the kids that fight for the chance to have that experience.”
That was the tact Peter chose – to work even harder. Though she was close to starting the season in three events before her injury, she concentrated on the bars afterward because “she knew that was her first chance to get back into the lineup and contribute.”
Despite not having competed all season, Peter finally broke into the lineup at Stanford’s final home meet, and hit a 9.80. Two weeks later, in Stanford’s final dual meet, she hit a 9.875 and has been in the lineup ever since.
“She did everything she was asked to do,” Swircek said. “It was fantastic to see. It’s one of those things that makes this job worthwhile, to see a kid grow like that, and learn something about themself.”