Jan. 9, 2008
No. 5 Stanford vs. No. 1 Georgia
January 13, 2007 2PM
Live Streaming Video Available on www.gostanford.com
No. 5 Stanford Women's Gymnastics will return to the gym Sunday to host the top-ranked and reigning national champion Georgia Bulldogs. Nine months after a strong performance at last season's NCAA Championships, the Cardinal look to challenge themselves against the nation's best and prove that they are one of the programs that will be competing for this season's national championship. In 2007, the Cardinal finished only four tenths of a point behind runner-up University of Utah and has entered 2008 with a strong sense of optimism.
"I am so excited for this season," said Head Coach Kristen Smyth. "There are many reasons to be optimistic about this team. We have outstanding leadership, with six seniors who know what it takes to be successful at the college level leading the way. We have valuable experience from last season to build on with six All Americans returning to a team that is hungry to get back to the `Super Six'. "
Indeed there is a lot to get excited about. Stanford enters 2008 with a roster that should be as talented as any other in the nation. It returns everyone back from last year's team, and welcomes a fine freshman class that will continue to add depth to an already strong roster.
The Cardinal will be welcoming a very strong opponent though to The Farm. Georgia won their third straight NCAA Championship last spring and will feature plenty of talent in their own right.
They will be led by junior Courtney Kupets, who is a five-time All-American and last season's Honda award winner. The Bulldogs will also feature senior Katie Heenan, who is a nine-time All-American and has been named All-SEC in all three seasons that she has competed. Georgia will also feature young talents in sophomore Grace Taylor, sophomore Courtney McCool and freshman Cassidy McComb. All three have previous junior Olympic experience.
The Cardinal returns a wealth of talent, headlined by senior Tabitha Yim. Yim, an Irvine, Calif. native, is an 11-time All-American and was an NCAA Champion at the 2007 South Central Regional. In addition to all her accolades, Yim has developed into a tremendous leader and has made the gymnasts around her better.
"Tabitha is magical," said Smyth. "She has an amazing energy about her and can get her team, and our fans, fired up. Her contributions to our sport and Stanford gymnastics cannot be measured," said Smyth.
The Cardinal will also showcase three-time All-American Nicole Ourada. Last season Ourada was a First-Team All-American on the beam and one of the top performers in the all-around nationally. Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Carly Janiga will also be featured in the all-around. The native of Paradise Valley, Ariz. also was a three-time All-American last season.
Leading the way on the bars this season will be two-time defending Pac-10 bar champion Liz Tricase, who recorded a perfect 10.000 in the event last season against Arizona State. Junior Kelly Fee will also lead the way on the bars as well as Ourada. This group is steady and consistent and will be amongst the best bar performers in the country. Seniors Lauren Elmore and Alex Pintchouk will also add strong depth to the event.
Stanford will also welcome back redshirt freshman Allyse Ishino, who was unable to compete last year due to illness. Ishino, one of the top recruits last season, will return to competition this year and will be relied upon throughout the season.
"It is most exciting to have Allyse Ishino back and healthy," said Smyth. "She is a gifted athlete and a difference maker. Having her able to compete will be a real boost for our team and a gift for our fans."
Stanford comes into this season with three All-Americans on the beam team, making this event another one in which the Cardinal should excel. Fee, Ourada and Yim were all All-Americans last year and Ishino has the potential to really shine on this event. Fee is an aggressive and charismatic performer and is in position for another strong campaign in 2008. Ourada placed third in the Nation last year on balance beam, one of the highest finishes of any Stanford gymnast on beam in school history. Other outstanding beam competitors fighting for spots in the line-up will be seniors Elmore, Gentry, Pintchouk, and Aimee Precourt as well as Janiga and Ikoma. With all the depth on beam this season, competition for line-ups should prove exciting.
"Lauren, one of the toughest beam competitors in Stanford history, is our starter and sets the tone for our beam team. Our team will compete with confidence and we will differentiate ourselves by our skill selection and difficulty on balance beam," said Smyth. "In addition, we have outstanding performers and we hope to showcase their lines, beauty and artistry."
The 2008 schedule will also feature many highly-ranked programs. The Cardinal is ranked fifth in the GymInfo Pre-Season Coaches Poll. Besides facing top-ranked Georgia, the Cardinal have meets against #4 UCLA, #6 Alabama, #7 Nebraska, #11 Oregon State, #12 Arizona #17 Iowa State, and #18 Arizona State. The schedule will have the Cardinal facing the nation's best every week, and should give the team valuable experience entering postseason play.
"It is a pleasure to host perennial powerhouse programs like Georgia, Alabama and Nebraska," said Smyth. "We will be challenged against these great teams early and often and they will be good measuring sticks for us throughout the year. We know the competition will be tough, but we are looking forward to meeting them and hosting high-level gymnastics in the Bay Area."
Once again Smyth signed one of the best freshman classes in the country and brought in three gymnasts who should provide immediate dividends.
Shelley Alexander, a native of Sequin, Tex., should make an immediate impact on vault after finishing first in the event at the 2007 Texas State Championships. Alexander also finished first on beam and second on floor in the state competition. Alexander is a two-time (2006-07) JO qualifier and has already demonstrated her strong talents in the preseason.
"Shelley is a diamond in the rough and is going to explode in college," said Smyth. "Shelley has great potential, and is hungry to learn and improve. She is an excellent all around performer but her signature events are vault and floor, where she is explosive and exciting to watch. She competes in one of the most difficult vaults in the country and will be a strong contributor on that event for us this year. We feel so fortunate to have a student-athlete with her character and work ethic joining our program."
Danielle Ikoma, a native of Naperville, Ill., should provide depth on the bars in her first season. Ikoma placed second on bars at the 2007 JO Nationals and also finished fourth in the all-around. She also finished third in the all-around at the 2006 JO Nationals and second on bars at the 2005 JO Nationals. A highly accomplished gymnast, Ikoma has been a Junior National Team member three times (2005-07).
"Danielle is undoubtedly one of the top recruits in the country and has impressed us with her outstanding leadership, competitive spirit and work ethic," said Smyth. "She is an aggressive balance beam competitor, excellent all-around performer and is going to be a wonderful addition to our team."
Gretchen O'Henley comes to the farm from nearby Oakland, Calif. and brings in strong credentials as well. O'Henley competed at the 2006 Junior National Championships and finished third in the state last year in the all-around competition. She should provide depth for the Cardinal on vault and on floor.
"Gretchen is a powerful gymnast and strong on vault where I think she will make an immediate impact," said Smyth. "I look forward to Gretchen learning in college, and contributing to SWG as she improves. Gretchen was a Northern California standout, and I am excited that she chose to attend Stanford and I am looking forward to watching her grow in our program."
Coach Smyth sees an immediate impact for all three of the freshmen and is excited about what they will bring to the program.
"I can't say enough about these three young women and how thrilled we are to have them join our SWG family. All three have leadership abilities and the talent and desire to improve in college. They will help Stanford compete against the very best teams in the country and will join SWG in their quest for a National Championship."