April 15, 2007
Stanford, CA - The #4 Stanford women's gymnastics team (SWG) won the NCAA South Central Regional Championship with a 196.6 and a solid team performance that will send the Card to the NCAA National Championships as a team for the first time in three years. Junior co-Captain Tabitha Yim won her third straight regional All Around title with a 39.475 and another uneven bar title with a 9.9. Junior co-Captain Liz Tricase won the vault with a 9.9. The top two teams from each of six NCAA Regional sites advance to the national championships. Stanford's performance should make them a #3 seed in one of the two sessions on the first day of competition, Thursday, April 26 at the University of Utah.
Head Coach Kristen Smyth was elated with the team's effort and the result. "This shows that you can take nothing for granted. There are lots of great teams out there, but this team has shown a tremendous amount of heart, hunger and determination all year long. They've proven themselves all year with consistency under pressure and it's really gratifying to see that pay off in an opportunity to showcase our talent at the national championship."
SWG followed the same rotation order as the Pac-10 Championships and started with a strong performance on the uneven bars. Sophomore Kelly Fee has held on to her lead off role for most of her career and gave the team a nice start with a 9.775. Classmate Nicole Ourada swung a beautiful routine but took a hop on her double tuck dismount for a 9.725. Junior Alex Pintchouk turned in one of her more dynamic bars sets of the year and drilled her double layout dismount for the night's first stuck landing and a 9.775. Freshman Carly Janiga, who drew a sizable following from her home in nearby Paradise Valley, added another stuck double layout, following a great Shaposhnikova to shootover handstand combination, for a 9.8. Yim competed in the fifth spot and hit a flawless routine, punctuated by a third stick in a row after a gorgeous full twisting double tuck dismount. Tricase closed out the bar rotation with an uncharacteristic miss on a sky high Shaposhnikova, but the team score of 48.975 was enough for SWG to take a narrow lead after the first rotation.
The second rotation saw the Card move to balance beam, the event that would clearly determine the winner on the evening. SWG struggled on beam at the regional championship last year and the team was determined to come back on that event with a vengeance. Junior beam queen Lauren Elmore showed her trademark toughness by leading off like a champion, hitting a beautiful routine that gave the team a great momentum swing after the miss that closed out bars. Pintchouk followed with what was probably her most beautiful performance of the season, matching Elmore's toughness and presentation for a 9.85. Yim showed championship form with a remarkable 9.9 that had no signs of rust from her recently reduced training schedule. Junior Aimee Precourt has been the junior squad's emotional rock and did not disappoint, hitting her triple flight series like a pro and sticking her front full dismount for a 9.8. Fee then hit one of the team's highlights of the night. After some mid-season inconsistency and confidence hits, the spunky sophomore showed her true metal and blasted a double tuck dismount that earned her a 9.9. Janiga warmed up well on beam but got shaken by the same skill that took her off the apparatus at the conference championship and took her second fall of the season. With five hits in the bank the team score was unaffected and SWG recorded a very strong 49.25 that gave them a five tenth margin over second place Oregon State at the halfway point. More importantly, however, the shadow from last year's regional meet was erased with the brilliance of the beam squad's work tonight. "The four juniors really provide a great anchor and their performance showed that this is a different team... one that won't back down, one that understands what toughness means in tight situations", complimented Coach Smyth.
One bye rotation provided a short breather for the team (with six teams competing on the four events, every team has two bye rotations in the regional format) but SWG came back out on the floor fired up and confident with the two concentration events out of the way. Pintchouk led off with a really nicely-danced routine for a 9.85. Elmore came back with a very dynamic version of her "Superwoman" routine and her best tumbling of the season (double pike, whip 1/2 front 1/1 front, 2 1/2 punch front) for a 9.8 that Fee matched with a nice job on all of her landings and her dance. Janiga competed in the fourth spot and the pressure was on the freshman to come back strong after her beam miss. She showed how much grit is in her pixie-sized package, completing a huge Arabian double front and big second and third passes for a crowd-pleasing 9.9. Ourada has been working hard to improve her landings on some of the most difficult tumbling the team has and cleaned up the finish on both her full twisting double pike and the double pike dismount for a 9.875. Yim came back into the floor lineup for the first time in two months and quickly reminded everyone how much her presence lends to the look of SWG floor. She rocked all of her tumbling passes and raised the bar for exceptional performances, with a 9.85 that was marred only by a little hop out of her last pass (round off, 1 1/2 punch front layout). Smyth was excited about Yim's return. "Tabitha hasn't done floor since January and it is wonderful to be able to watch her artistry on the floor. When everyone in the crowd, the other competitors, and the officials stop to watch, you know something special is going on." The team total of 49.275 kept the Card's lead comfortable and was one of their stronger floor squad scores of the 2007 campaign.
The fifth rotation (Stanford's final one) took the team to vault with another look for the SWG lineup. Freshman Blair Ryland has been working hard in practice and made such significant strides in the last two weeks that she earned the lead off role and cranked out a a stuck Yurchenko layout with a 1/1 twist for a 9.8. Janiga matched the score with the same vault and Ourada followed with a huge block off of the vault table, but the sophomore landed with her chest low and received a 9.725. Yim got the vault train back on track with a strong copy of the first three but it was Tricase who took honors on the evening, performing the biggest vault of the night for a well-deserved 9.9 and a huge lift to the team. Pintchouk closed out the rotation with the team's fourth 9.8 on her laid out Yurchenko with a 1/2 twist and the team finished with a 49.1 that was enough to seal the win.
Coach Smyth applauded another great all-around effort from Pintchouk. "Alex had what were probably her top beam and floor performances of her career as part of a really critical all around effort--she was absolutely stunning tonight."
The most intense drama of the night came in the sixth rotation, however, as the #2 seed, Oregon State, and the #3 seed, Arizona, were within two tenths of each other and battling for the second berth out of the meet to NCAA Nationals. With Arizona on beam and the Beavers finishing on floor it looked unlikely that the Wildcats could make up enough ground to take the lead, but Arizona put together an incredible string of lights-out, 9.9 quality beam routines and put intense pressure on Oregon State. The Beavers have had a very strong and consistent floor group all year, however, and they closed out this meet with their anchor, Tasha Smith, whose floor mark was the highest of the meet and just barely enough to give Oregon State second place and another trip to the national championship.
Stanford will leave for Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday, April 24. The schedule for that week will include a training day on Wednesday, preliminary team competition in two sessions on Thursday, "Super Six" competition featuring the top three teams from each session on Friday for the national team title, and individual event finals on Saturday to determine individual event titles.