Jan. 27, 2012
CORVALLIS, Ore. - The unequivocal highlight for Stanford's women's gymnastics team on Friday night was the performance of Amanda Spinner, even though her exhibition routine on the balance beam didn't even count.
That's not to take anything away from Alyssa Brown or Nicole Dayton, who each earned Stanford's highest scores of the season on the beam and vault, respectively, in the Cardinal's 196.800-194.525 loss to Oregon State.
But the sophomore Spinner is so respected among her teammates that even though she had never competed in a meet for the Cardinal, she was elected by her teammates as team captain.
Before 3,703 at Gill Coliseum, as the last of her team to take the floor that night, Spinner competed for the first time in more than two years.
Thoughts of her six knee surgeries dissolved into a series of graceful movements that Spinner executed with a smile, and was greeted after her dismount by joyous teammates, who sensed a special moment when they saw it.
"Amanda Spinner has the heart of a champion," Stanford coach Kristen Smythsaid. "She's wanted nothing more than to come back and compete. It was great for our entire team to see her achieve her goal, with all she's been through."
Spinner scored a 9.625, from a start value of 9.8, so there's clearly room for higher scores when she adds difficulty to her routine. But the important thing, was to get it done.
However, there's a practical side to Spinner's return as well. Three of her six teammates fell during their beam routines, creating an opening for Spinner to enter the lineup and contribute right away.
"We're a little thin right now, but when we have competition for spots, it will not only make our team better, but it will help us compete against other teams," Smyth said.
Though Stanford didn't respond well on the beam while competing on the road for the first time this season, it can only help - for the sake of experience and knowing what they need to do to improve. The situation also was unique because the gymnasts competed by themselves. When a Stanford gymnast was done, an Oregon State gymnast would go.
"There's no greater pressure than that type of atmosphere," Smyth said. "There's a great crowd, a huge arena, and you're going one at a time, all the eyes are on you. We want to be prepared to handle that, and not just handle it, but to thrive in it and be excited about that moment."
Brown certainly did. As the Stanford beam anchor, and with all three falls in front of her, she was nearly flawless in scoring a 9.925 to tie for first in the event with the Beavers' Makayla Stambaugh and earn Stanford's highest score of the season in any event.
Brown, a senior, earned her collegiate career best, despite altering her routine this season to compensate for an injured shoulder from an off-season injury. Her previous career best was 9.875, and her season best was 9.700.
Smyth admired Brown's poise.
"You expect that from our senior leader," Smyth said. "That's who she is."
Dayton returned after missing Stanford's dual meet victory over Washington last week because of an injury, but the junior responded with a 9.900 for Stanford's season best score on vault, finishing second to Kelsi Blalock of the Beavers (3-0).
Stanford continues its five-meet road swing with a Pac-12 dual meet at UCLA on Sunday, Feb. 5. And perhaps Spinner will make her official collegiate debut. But, even so, it will be hard to top the emotion of Friday's.
"It was an incredible moment, for her and for everybody on the team," Smyth said. "This is what you can do when you believe in yourself."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics
Final team scores:
Individual winners and Stanford scores:
All-Around: 1, Makayla Stambaugh (Oregon State) 39.45. Stanford: Ashley Morgan 38.775