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Women's Gymnastics Season in Review: Persistence Pays Off
Courtesy: Stanford Athletics  
Release: 06/18/2010

June 18, 2010

STANFORD, Calif. - For every coach, every competitive season takes a unique path. For Kristen Smyth, coach of the Stanford women's gymnastics team, the 2010 season seemed to go beyond the usual twists and turns.

In a sport that demands perfection, or something close to it, Stanford seemed tantalizingly close for most of the year, but without the breakthrough meet it sought. That changed on the biggest stage, the NCAA Super Six, when Stanford produced its best performance to finish fourth, only 0.15 from a school-record second-place national finish.

"This team was connected, had mutual respect between classes and gave everything they had every single day," Smyth said. "The most inspiring thing about this year's team was that there were plenty of opportunities for doubt to creep in, to get frustrated and down. Yet they never did. They used every experience as an opportunity to learn, grow, and get better."

Inspirational performances came from so many different athletes that when it came time, at the team banquet, to give out the Cardinal Award, the highest individual honor presented each year, the gymnasts themselves were as split as the coaches. The result was the unprecedented selection of the entire team for the award. It was appropriate, given the way individuals picked up their teammates at crucial times throughout the season, often after a fall and often producing the steely response that the team needed to get back into a meet.

It's true that Stanford never had a perfect meet, and was stuck in the mid-196-point range until the season's final day. But Stanford beat eventual NCAA champion UCLA twice - home and road - and reeled off the best regular-season record in school history (19-3), a mark extended to 24-3 after winning the NCAA Southeast Regional in Morgantown, W.Va.

The predicaments the team put itself in only seemed to make it stronger.

"I often wondered, is this team too nice?" Smyth said. "Or not quite tough enough to have the kind of legacy they wanted?"

But the Cardinal answered those questions by fighting through adversity late in the season.

The team was close-knit - very close, with great relationships with each other. But the accountability wasn't there, the kind of tough-love from teammates that demands something extra.

"We needed to identify that these were the things holding us back, and we needed to address them," Smyth said. "That's when we started to turn the corner and the team started to believe that they were capable of challenging for a spot in the Super Six, and making run for the title."

That belief began to come to fruition with help from pressure-packed routines:

•    At the Pac-10 Championships, after a teammate's fall on the uneven bars, Nicole Pechanec told teammates, "I've got this. Don't worry." She scored a 9.80 to restore Stanford's momentum.
•    After a fall on the balance beam in the same meet, Carly Janiga produced a 9.85 on the next routine. And with Shelley Alexander out with a sore shoulder, senior Tenaya West, in the first beam routine of her collegiate career, followed with a clutch 9.80 to help pull Stanford to a second-place finish.
•    In the NCAA team preliminaries, with Stanford in danger of falling out of contention for a Super Six spot, senior Blair Ryland scored a collegiate career-high 9.925 with a momentum-changing leadoff vault, earning her first-team All-America honors.
•    In Stanford's final rotation, sophomore Jenny Peter, a former walk-on who was a late-season addition to the uneven bars lineup, produced a big 9.825 score to close out the meet when the team could hardly afford anything less, helping the Cardinal advance.
•    Finally, Carly Janiga produced scores of 9.925 (floor), 9.90 (vault), and 9.95 (bars), to help overcome a first-routine fall and lift Stanford into fourth at the Super Six.

"This is one team that doesn't like to do things the easy way," Janiga said after the Super Six. "We'll make it hard on ourselves, but that just shows how tough we are."

A day later, Janiga would conclude an exceptional effort at nationals by winning the uneven bars title. Her 9.9375 gave Stanford its first individual title since 1998 and second in school history.

Janiga also tied for second on beam with a 9.8875 and was third in the all-around (39.525), Stanford's highest-ever finish in that event. With three more first-team All-America honors, Janiga totaled nine in all, tying for third among all-time Stanford gymnasts.

A year ago, Stanford entered the NCAA's clouded with doubt after final rotation falls cost the team a Pac-10 title and led to tentative performances that prevented the Cardinal from advancing to the 2009 Super Six.

This year was different. Even though the team had its share of struggles, its response painted an optimistic view for the future.

Among the revelations was freshman Ashley Morgan, who made an immediate impact at the season-opener at five-time defending champion Georgia, averaging 9.83 over three events in a hostile environment, and became an all-conference performer on floor.

"She was the kind of kid that could rise up in the biggest moments, when we needed it the most," Smyth said.

Another boost came from the sophomore class: Pechanec performed at an All-America level on the floor for much of the season; Peter forced her way into lineup and showed she is hungry for more responsibility; and Alyssa Brown rebounded from a serious knee injury. The next step is for the class of `12 to take control of the program in every respect: leadership and confidence and performance.

With the graduation of Janiga, a two-year captain, the leadership should be assumed by fifth-year senior Allyse Ishino, fellow captain Shelley Alexander, and senior Danielle Ikoma. Ishino is coming off her best collegiate season, Alexander was the regional vault and beam champion, and Ikoma has been a fixture in the lineup since she was a freshman.

The future also includes Kristina Vaculik, a 2012 Olympic hopeful who recently captured her second Canadian all-around championship as well as national titles in the vault, beam, and bars. She will join fellow recruits Lauren Caldemeyer, Lucy Meyer, Amanda Spinner at Stanford this fall.

Overall, the finish to the 2010 season, which featured Stanford's third Super Six appearance in four years and eighth NCAA appearance in 10 years, seems to prove that the future looks bright.

"They had an experience they can build off," Smyth said. "We peaked at the right time, had our best meet of the season on the last day of the year, and more fun than you could possibly imagine. We have a great group of freshmen joining us next year and I'm excited to build off our fourth-place finish. This is a program that, every year, should be competing on the last day and trying to win a national title."

Here is a list of team accomplishments for 2010:

Fourth-place NCAA finish
Fifth NCAA Super Six appearance
Third Super Six appearance in four years
Four consecutive NCAA top-10 finishes
Eight NCAA appearances in 10 years
Best regular-season record in school history (19-3)
NCAA Southeast Regional championship
Fifth NCAA regional title
Four All-America honors
Two first-team All-Americans
One national champion
Five All-Conference selections
Seven Pac-10 All-Academic selections

Stanford's Team Awards
Academic Award: Carly Janiga
Team MVP: Carly Janiga
Most Inspirational: Stephanie Carter
Most Improved: Jenny Peter
Cardinal Award: Entire team

Here is a list of individual accomplishments for 2010:


Shelley Alexander
NCAA Southeast Regional vault champion
NCAA Southeast Regional beam champion
Team captain
Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention

Alyssa Brown
All-Pac-10 second-team selection for balance beam

Stephanie Carter
Team Most Inspirational award winner
Part of Stanford senior class that reached Super Six an unprecedented three times

Danielle Ikoma
Pac-10 All-Academic second team

Allyse Ishino
Part of Stanford senior class that reached Super Six an unprecedented three times
All-Pac-10 second-team selection on uneven bars
Pac-10 All-Academic second team
Team captain

Carly Janiga
NCAA uneven bars champion, first Stanford individual winner since 1998
NCAA balance beam runner-up
NCAA all-around third-place finisher, Stanford's best-ever all-around place
Three-time first-team All-American in 2010
Nine-time All-America
Seven-time first-team All-America selection
NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient
Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete of the year for women's gymnastics
Honda Award finalist for gymnastics and academics
AAI Award finalist as the top female senior-class gymnast
Pac-10 Tom Hansen Conference Medal
Pac-10 floor exercise champion
Four-time Pac-10 individual champion
Part of Stanford senior class that reached Super Six an unprecedented three times
Pac-10 All-Academic first team
All-Pac-10 first-team selection in all-around
Stanford Athletic Board's Donald Kennedy Award
Team Academic Award winner
Team Most Valuable Player
Two-year team captain
Three-time 2010 Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week
Two-time 2010 Stanford Muscle Milk Athlete of the Week

Ashley Morgan
All-Pac-10 second-team selection for floor exercise
Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week (Feb. 1-7)
Stanford Muscle Milk Athlete of the Week (Feb. 1-7)

Nicole Pechanec
All-Pac-10 second-team selection for floor exercise
Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention

Jenny Peter
Team Most Improved award winner

Blair Ryland
NCAA first-team All-American on vault
NCAA vault ninth-place finisher, best Stanford vault finish since 2004
Part of Stanford senior class that reached Super Six an unprecedented three times
Two-time All-America
Pac-10 All-Academic second team
Stanford Athletic Board's Spirit of Stanford Award

Tenaya West
Pac-10 All-Academic first team
Part of Stanford senior class that reached Super Six an unprecedented three times

 


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