Jan. 7, 2004
Looking Forward to '04: An interview with head coach Kristen Smyth
Kristen, you have taken the Stanford Women's Gymnastics program to unprecedented heights in your first two seasons. Now entering your third year, what are your expectations this season?
We have high expectations and "big goals" for the 2004 season. Stanford is a young program that is on the rise. We've only been to the NCAA Championships as a team six times in school history. It is important for us to consistently qualify for the NCAA Championships and compete against the top teams in the country year in year out. For us to have made three consecutive appearances at Nationals says a lot about how far we have come as a program.
One thing that makes this year incredibly special is that we are led by five phenomenal seniors. Kendall Beck, Caroline Fluhrer, Shelly Goldberg, Lise Leveille and Lindsay Wing are by far the most decorated class in Stanford history. These five student-athletes are extremely driven, and they are committed to making this their best season yet. In addition to the outstanding senior leadership we have in place six out of the ten returning student-athletes are All Americans. Natalie Foley and Glyn Sweets are both coming off outstanding freshmen campaigns.
I believe this year we have the talent, the experience and the leadership to do something extraordinary. This is the year we are looking to establish ourselves as one of the top teams in the country. Our goal, our motivation and our drive comes from a burning desire to win a National Championship.
What special qualities does your program have and how do you see it comparing to the other top programs in the country?
One of the things that we continue to strive for, as a program, is to put an interesting and artistic style of gymnastics on the floor. We accomplish this through our skill selection, the choreography, and presentation. As our fans know, we have an exciting group of athletes to watch.
Can you talk about your competition schedule for the upcoming season?
We definitely have a strong schedule this year, including our yearly PAC-10 schedule. The PAC-10 is one of the top conferences in the country. All of the PAC-10 schools are competitive, strong, well coached, and will always give us a great competition. As far as non-conference away meets, we're going to Oklahoma, which is a top 15 program and the University of Maryland which should give us a great competition. It is important for us to get National exposure each year and we will continue to expand our travel schedule.
Last season, vault was a particularly strong event for the team. Will the Cardinal continue to be one the best in the nation on the vault?
Vault was one of our strongest events as a team last year, and we are returning three All-Americans on vault in senior Kendall Beck, and sophomores Glyn Sweets and Natalie Foley. Other solid vaulters that we return include seniors Caroline Fluhrer, Lise L?veill?, and Shelly Goldberg, as well as junior Mandy Delgado and sophomore Jessica Louie. Jessica will be unveiling a new vault this year, a yurchenko layout full, that capitalizes on her explosiveness. The vault team has an enormous amount of power and will be exciting to watch.
In the two seasons that you have been at the helm at Stanford, the Cardinal have developed a unique style on the uneven bars. Can you talk about the team's approach to that particular event and what we should expect in 2004?
The uneven bars are an event where I really feel we separate ourselves in terms of execution and composition. We are also one of the most beautiful and elegant bar teams in the country. We are led by All Americans Caroline Fluhrer, Lindsay Wing and Natalie Foley. Caroline, our anchor on bars has added an exciting new release combination to her routine and the rest of the bar team is working to add some new elements for the fans to enjoy. Other returners to watch are Lise, Jessica and Glyn, each of whom competed for us last year and will be important contributors to this year's bar team. Adding to this solid lineup are two freshmen, Erin Geary and Stacy Sprando. Stacy was the 2003 Junior Olympic bar champion and they both bring intricate combinations and beautiful lines.
Last year Stanford was ranked as high as third nationally on beam, an event that is often considered the most difficult in gymnastics. To what would you attribute Stanford's success on the beam?
The balance beam has been our signature event the last few years and should continue to be strong for us. Lindsay Wing, Lise L?veill? and Glyn Sweets have earned All-American honors on beam and are among the best beam competitors in the country. Lindsay has been the PAC-10 beam champion for the past three years, and Lise was co-champion with Lindsay in 2001 and 2002. Lindsay is a three time All-American, and Lise is a two time All-American on beam, while Glyn earned her first All-American honor last year. All three gymnasts perform extremely high levels of difficulty, are consistent and beautiful to watch. Other athletes rounding out the lineup are seniors Kendall Beck and Caroline Fluhrer, juniors Mandy Delgado and Marla Ranieri, sophomore Natalie Foley and freshmen Brittany Billmaier, Erin Geary and Stacy Sprando.
Last season, Stanford captured a program-record eight All-American honors in vault, bars, beam and the all-around. Is an All-American honor on the floor event in 2004 a possibility?
We are looking to really improve on that event. Chris is an excellent tumbling coach and helps us where we have been weak in the past. We are looking to upgrade our tumbling as well as work on our consistency. We are also working on some new routines that will be high energy and exciting for fans to watch. Lise L?veill? will be leading the charge with her incredible style and presence. Caroline, Lindsay, Shelly, Mandy, Marla, Natalie, Jessica, and Glyn all competed for us last year and will be looked upon to contribute throughout the season. The freshmen are also excellent floor performers and will add depth to our floor lineup.
Having one of the most talented and experienced group of performers in the country, who do you see participating in the all-around for Stanford in 2004?
We have quite a few people training the all-around. Returning are Lise L?veill? and Natalie Foley, two of our top all-arounders from last year. Caroline Fluhrer and Lindsay Wing have also been solid in the all-around for us over the last few years and I'd look for them to do the same this year.
As you had mentioned before, your senior class has accomplished more than any other in Stanford Women's Gymnastics history. Can you talk a little about what they have meant to the program?
These five are the most outstanding class that has ever been at Stanford, and probably one of the top classes in the country. The five came in together, and thus far have garnered 10 All-American awards, a PAC-10 team championship, 6 individual PAC-10 titles, produced three NCAA National Championship appearances and our first-ever Super Six appearance. But their accomplishments are not what make them so unique and special. They are incredibly self-motivated, dedicated to their goals and epitomize the Stanford student-athlete. They are a phenomenal group of young women, and with them leading the charge I know we will do great things this year.
Since you took the head coaching position in 2001, you have been able to assemble a bright, energetic, knowledgeable coaching staff. Please talk about their role on this team and how they have been able to help the student-athletes achieve their potential.
I think that we have the best staff in the country. We just hired a new assistant coach, Chris Swircek and he's doing a tremendous job. He's an excellent bar and tumbling technician, has established great rapport with the athletes and he's already added so much to the team dynamic. Larissa Fontaine coaches primarily vault and beam, which were two of our strongest events last year. In addition to her coaching expertise, Larissa is someone who has experience at Stanford, someone who understands the unique environment of Stanford athletics, which is a big plus in regards to recruiting. Finally, our volunteer coach, Scott Green is one of the top technicians in the country. What makes our staff unique is that all four coaches have been through the collegiate gymnastics ranks at a very high level. Having that personal background to draw on gives us a real understanding of what the student-athletes are experiencing.
After earning the program's first-ever Super Six appearance in 2002, just missing the Super Six in 2003, and returning a wealth of talent this season, what are the possibilities in 2004?
The team came back this season in great shape and hungry to get back to the Super Six. Our main goal is to compete in the Super Six with the top teams in the country and challenge for a NCAA Championship title. To accomplish this goal it is important to stay healthy and have a full squad able to contribute on a two-day meet. Finally, team chemistry is a crucial ingredient to any great team. We want a strong and unified group of student-athletes when we step out on the floor of a meet. With the leadership that we have in place and the group of student-athletes that we have assembled, I really believe that given health, the sky is the limit.