April 1, 2007
Stanford, CA - The Stanford women's gymnastics team went to Tempe on a mission to pick up some post-season momentum and defend their 2006 team title. While the night was rich with individual accomplishments and team goals achieved for the Card, UCLA put together a nearly flawless performance and took the team title back with a narrow 197.2 to 196.95 victory. Head Coach Kristen Smyth acknowledged some disappointment, but found a lot of small victories in the evening. "We definitely opened the door in a few places but I felt like the team rose up when we needed them to. It would be nice to not be in that situation, but the kids did a nice job of stepping in and covering for each other when it counted."
UCLA junior Tasha Schwikert turned in a dominating 39.75 four event effort that earned her both the individual All Around title and Gymnast of the Year Honors. Coach Smyth won the Coach of the Year recognition for the second year in a row, Carly Janiga took home the Freshman of the Year title, and SWG junior Liz Tricase successfully defended her uneven bar title with a 9.95.
Stanford started on the event that has been their strength all year, the uneven bars, with junior swing studs Tricase and Tabitha Yim returning to the lineup for the first time since the early part of the season. Sophomore Kelly Fee started the meet for SWG with a strong 9.8, but classmate Nicole Ourada suffered an uncharacteristic miss when she underrotated her double layout dismount. Junior Alex Pintchouk stepped up to get the bar squad back on track with a strong set punctuated with a stuck double layout finish. Coach Smyth was impressed with the junior's approach. "The first clutch routine of the night came after the second performer on our first event went down. Alex had to follow that miss and she did a beautiful job, which set up the lineup to finish very strong." The bar team cruised after that, with Janiga nailing a 9.9 with her normal big swing and then Yim drilling a beautiful full twisting double tuck for a 9.925. The stage was set for Tricase, who was ranked #1 in the country through all of last season but has had to sit out the middle part of this season with a shoulder injury. Despite not having competed since January, she performed with the aggressive swing that has become her trademark and dropped from the sky on a huge double layout for a 9.95 (and the event title by the end of the evening). The team score of 49.325 tied SWG's third highest bar total of the 2007 campaign.
The adage that gymnastics meets are often won on beam meant that the Card needed a strong showing in the second rotation after UCLA and Oregon State both came out firing on all cylinders in their first rotation. Junior beam anchor Lauren Elmore led off with one of her best efforts of the year and got the ball rolling with a great 9.875. Pintchouk followed with a couple of minor balance checks on her punch fronts, but was effective enough for a 9.8. Yim competed in the third spot and showed no rust from her hiatus on the event, drilling every element with terrific style and earning a 9.9 that tied her for fourth on the event overall. Junior Aimee Precourt finished off the cadre of four juniors that Coach Smyth has started to use with great effectiveness on beam and gave her team a 9.75. Just when it looked like the beam squad was going to roll to a big score, Janiga suffered her first fall off the apparatus of her collegiate career on a switch leap to standing layout stepout. The miss dropped her to a 9.175 and put tremendous pressure on Fee in the anchor spot. The spunky sophomore showed the same confidence that she had early in the season and dismounted with a huge double tuck for a 9.85 that was a much-needed hit. "That was the second major clutch routine of the night. The juniors set the tone with four big hits but then Carly went down and that put huge pressure on Kelly. She really delivered when we needed her," said Smyth. The team total was enough to keep the Card in the lead by just .05 over ULCA after both teams had completed two events.
Floor exercise has been relatively solid but not spectacular for Stanford the last month and the event again brought some challenges. Pintchouk started off with a clean routine that gave the team the 9.8 they've come to count on from the junior. Elmore followed with one of the most exciting and difficult routines that Stanford has, but she had to fight through a really short landing on her dismount pass (2 1/2 twist punch front) and could do no better than a 9.7. Fellow junior Stephanie Gentry matched that mark and suddenly Stanford was in a bit of a hole given a strong UCLA performance on vault in the same rotation. With growing pressure for big hits, Fee stepped up for the second time on the night with one of her cleanest routines and a big double tuck finish for a 9.85. The moment of truth came with Janiga and Ourada finishing the event and both having already suffered a disappointing miss. Both the freshman and sophomore showed impressive mental toughness with classic performances that earned a 9.9 and 9.875, respectively, The 49.125 included a lot of individual highlights, but a 49.325 bar performance from UCLA gave the Bruins a narrow edge going into the last rotation.
As the Card moved to vault, they had great confidence in the team's ability to regain the lead with the addition of both Tricase and Yim to the lineup for the first time since the third meet of the year. Gentry led off with the first of Stanford's five laid out full-twisting Yurchenkos and was a bit short on the landing for a 9.775. Janiga stuck her best landing of the year but was only rewarded with a 9.8. Ourada matched Janiga's landing effort with a huge vault and split the judges, who decided on a 9.85. Yim showed her competitive strength, drilling a 9.9 with very little preparation and Tricase performed heroically, giving the team a 9.85 after almost no training on the event for the past two months. It was up to Pintchouk to put an exclamation point on the evening and the junior did not disappoint, planting a pretty landing on her Hristakieva (layout with a 1/2 twist) for a 9.925 that is her highest score of the season and tied her for third on vault for the championships. Her head coach was again impressed. "Having Liz and Tab back in the lineup for the first time in eight weeks was wonderful and they did beautiful vaults, but Alex was spectacular in the anchor spot and showed more evidence that she is really emerging as a leader on the floor." Unfortunately for Stanford, the 49.325 (the team's highest vault total of the year) was not enough to overtake UCLA after the Bruins turned in a nearly perfect beam rotation that sealed the win.
Stanford finishes the regular season with a #4 national ranking and a #1 ranking in both the Pac-10 and the Western NCAA Region. The team will find out on Monday which of the six regional sites they will be sent to as the #1 seed in two weeks and they'll get back to work in the gym, energized by what may turn out to be a crucial step to post-season success, according to Smyth. "It would have been nice to have a little better meet tonight, but I think it keeps us hungry as we prepare for the regional and I think that's a good place for us to be...working hard and bringing desire and determination to practice."