March 25, 2007
Stanford, CA - The 4th ranked Stanford women's gymnastics team (SWG) finished the regular season undefeated in the Pac-10 with a solid victory over #8 UCLA, 196.825 vs. 196.25. That effort should be enough to keep the Card's top 6 ranking and a #1 seed going into both Pac-10 Championships and the NCAA Regional Championships two weeks later. Stanford was led by Junior Alex Pintchouk's second best All Around effort ever, an outstanding 39.425 that included 9.9s on both vault and bars and gave her the All Around title.
Following traditional home meet format, Stanford started the evening on vault and faced a couple of question marks--Head Coach Kristen Smyth elected to rest team leaders Tabitha Yim and Liz Tricase (junior co-captains) for the Pac 10 Championships next weekend and really test the mettle of a very young team. Stanford also just started its Spring Break, so the tremendous energy that the Card's very dedicated student section normally brings was going to be sorely missed and the crowd advantage might have been negated. Both questions were answered with conviction--a terrific team effort showed the depth of the squad and a standing room only crowd of over 1200 people turned out to cheer SWG on.
Junior Stephanie Gentry led off on vault with a solid Yurchenko layout with a full twist (the rest of the lineup with the exception of Pintchouk performs the same vault) for a 9.75 and freshman Blair Ryland turned in a career best 9.775 in the second spot. The second frosh up, Carly Janiga, bettered that mark with one of her better vaults for a 9.875 that was nearly matched by Sophomore Nicole Ourada's 9.85. The highlight of the rotation was Pintchouk's lawn dart landing of a huge Yurchenko layout with a 1/2 twist for a 9.9. The third frosh in the lineup, Stephanie Carter, also set a new career mark with a 9.85 and an equally impressive landing. The team total of 49.25 was enough to give the Card a three tenth lead over the Bruins at the end of the first rotation.
Bars came up next for the team and it is both the team's strongest event and also the one that may be the most affected by the absence of Yim and Tricase. Sophomore Kelly Fee has been the lead off "money" routine all year long and continued with business as usual and a very strong 9.85. Junior Lauren Elmore hit a big set that included a very dynamic piked Jager and great handstand work, but she appeared to leave the bar a bit early on her double layout dismount and took a big corrective step on her landing for a 9.7. Ourada followed and has been very consistent on bars all season, but a second-guess moment after her Pak salto to Stalder 1/2 pirouette on the low bar caused her to suffer a major form and rhythm break for a 9.35, putting significant pressure on Pintchouk in the fourth slot. The junior was not fazed in the least, however, and planted a perfect double layout for a 9.9 that Janiga matched exactly one routine later. Ryland closed out the rotation with the knowledge that she needed to be a "counting routine" (the best five out of six scores in each rotation count) for the first time in 2007 and really stepped up, sticking her double pike dismount for a 9.7. The team total of 49.05 opened the door for a UCLA squad that turned in an impressive 49.35 on vault and left the teams exactly tied at the half with matching 98.3s.
Gymnastics fans know that meets are won and lost on the balance beam and SWG was determined to open up a margin by bettering whatever UCLA's floor effort might be. Elmore has held the lead off slot most of her collegiate career because of her competitive ferocity and consistency and she gave the team a beautiful 9.8 starting point. Junior Aimee Precourt came back after several weeks of seeming just a bit off with her best beam effort of the season, a 9.825 that included a flawless double back handspring to layout stepout combination and a stuck full twisting front layout dismount. Fee has also been shaky for the last month or so but came back to early season form with a nice 9.825 and a huge double tuck dismount. Janiga had a very strong performance on her difficulty-packed set (gainer layout, front aerial, and back handspring layout) but a slight check on her dismount landing left her at a 9.85. Co-captain Ourada showed impressive mental toughness after her bar experience, hitting one of her strongest routines of the season for a 9.875. The team scored a very confident looking 49.225 that was significantly better than UCLA's floor rotation and gave the Card a healthy four tenth cushion going into the last event.
Pintchouk was on a roll after three great events and appeared to be running close to empty by the end of her floor set, but still turned in a solid lead-off performance of 9.775. Elmore has not been able to train floor much and has competed sparingly as she recovers from a toe injury, but turned in a very impressive combination of dance and difficult tumbling (double pike, whip 1/2 front full front, and 2 1/2 twist punch front) for a career-best 9.85. Gentry matched that with an effort that also equaled her career record, a 9.85 with world-class performance and a nice double pike dismount. Fee also set a new career mark with a beautifully finished set for a 9.9, but Janiga struggled with landings on both her mount (Arabian double front) and second pass (double tuck) as she had a bit too much energy on both. Her 9.75 ended up not counting for the team score thanks to Ourada's gorgeous 9.925 (stuck piked full-in mount) that became the fourth individual career best on the event for the night. UCLA turned in a solid 49.15 on beam but it was not nearly enough to match the Card's 49.3 on floor.
The final team margin of six tenths gave SWG a great win and a terrific confidence boost heading into the conference championships next weekend. The team will leave Friday morning to travel to Tempe, AZ, where Arizona State will host the 2007 Pac-10 Tournament on Saturday, March 31 at 6:00 pm.