Jan. 3, 2008
Past: Head Coach Kristen Smyth enters her seventh season at Stanford University and has established a winning tradition on the Farm. Prior to 2002 Stanford Women's Gymnastics (SWG) had not broken through to the elite NCAA "Super Six." Today it is a program that has competed in the "Super Six" three out of the last six years. SWG had only 20 All American honors in its history until 2002 and now has 69 in total. SWG has historically struggled with depth but now boasts a roster of 17 student-athletes as it enters the upcoming season.
Present: SWG earned a berth in the NCAA Championships Final Round ("Super Six") in 2007 despite losing two seasoned contributors (then Juniors Liz Tricase and Tabitha Yim) to injury throughout the season and a highly touted freshman (Allyse Ishino) to a pulmonary embolism. The team's remarkable finish was an accomplishment driven by hard work and a selfless roster that stepped up for one another no matter what challenge they faced.
Destiny: It is rare in collegiate athletics that a team gets to enjoy the continuity that Stanford Women's Gymnastics can celebrate going into the 2008 season. Everyone is back, everyone is healed, and even more talent has arrived on campus as Stanford enters its most promising year in the program's history.
"I am so excited for this season," said Smyth. "There are many reasons to be optimistic about this team. We have outstanding leadership, with six seniors who know what it takes to be successful at the college level leading the way. We have valuable experience from last season to build on with six All Americans returning to a team that is hungry to get back to the `Super Six'. Everyone steps up on this team, works hard and is willing to do whatever it takes to compete for a National title. The gym is alive and it has been a great preseason with 17 talented student-athletes upgrading their routines and vying for spots in our competitive lineups. Depth will be a tremendous asset this season, and we will rely on everyone to step in throughout the year. It is most exciting to have Allyse Ishino (now a sophomore) back and healthy. She is a gifted athlete and a difference maker. Having her able to compete will be a real boost for our team and a gift for our fans."
The Cardinal ended 2007 as one of the very best teams in the nation. The team faced challenges early on but rebounded in highly impressive fashion. After the third week of the 2007 season SWG was never lower than fifth in the national rankings. The Cardinal parlayed their success into a #1 seed at the NCAA South Central Regional, where their strong performance netted them a spot at the NCAA Championships. A nearly flawless effort in the first day of team competition led to a berth in the prestigious "Super Six" team finals.
The season ended when the Cardinal hit every routine they performed over three days of competition and finished fifth nationally, the second highest finish in school history. In one of the fiercest competitions in gymnastics history, Stanford finished merely four tenths of a point behind runner up University of Utah. "Last year was a great season for us. We nailed our routines on the biggest possible stage in front of 10,000 fans," said Smyth. "It was fantastic to see the team rise up and deliver when the pressure was on."
Now as Stanford Women's Gymnastics looks toward 2008, it sees a full roster that should be among the most talented in the nation.
All-Around: The Cardinal remains extremely deep and talented in the All-Around. Eleven-time All-American Senior Tabitha Yim returns to lead and to anchor a veteran squad. Yim (a co-Captain) is also a Pac-10 Champion in the All-Around and the Beam as well as an NCAA Champion at the 2007 South Central Regional. Yim has been a tremendous leader and has consistently made the gymnasts around her better.
"Tabitha is magical," said Smyth. "She has an amazing energy about her and can get her team, and our fans, fired up. Her contributions to our sport and Stanford gymnastics cannot be measured," said Smyth. "Tabitha is one of the greatest competitors and performers of all time. It has been a joy to watch her grow and compete for Stanford."
Vault: Returning All Americans Janiga, Ourada, Tricase, and Sophomore Blair Ryland, as well as outstanding seniors Yim, Stephanie Gentry and Pintchouk, return to give the Cardinal tremendous depth on vault. Tricase (co-captain) is the 2007 South Central Regional vault champion and will lead lots of other strong performers in the 2008 season. Janiga comes off a banner freshman season after scoring a 9.925 at Nationals.
This could be one of Stanford's strongest events, but an area where Smyth sees both potential and necessity for improvement. "We performed really well on vault last year at Nationals," said Smyth. "Mike is a great vault coach and we showed that we could score high when we landed well. In order for us to build off of last season and to be a top team on vault again this year we will need to do what we did last year as well as add a variety of vaults to our repertoire. This year we are looking to incorporate a couple of Yurchenko 1.5's as well as a pike front half to our lineup. With the addition of Ishino, and our three dynamic freshmen (Shelley Alexander, Gretchen O'Henley and Danielle Ikoma) I am confident that we will stand out on this event again."
Bars: The bar team was strong for the Cardinal all of last season and bars proved to be a consistent and reliable event throughout the year. "Chris has done a fantastic job preparing our athletes for competition. This season he is focusing on increasing the number of releases our gymnasts perform and improving our dismounts," said Smyth. Leading the way on bars this year will be the four team co-captains, Tricase (2-time defending Pac 10 bar champion), Yim, Junior Kelly Fee and Ourada. These four are steady and consistent competitors and among the best bar performers in the country. In addition, Stanford returns Janiga, Senior Lauren Elmore and Pintchouk and adds Ishino, a top-flight bar performer to the core group. "Our goal this year is for all of our routines to have multiple releases and strong `E' dismounts. I am looking forward to adding Dani (Ikoma) to the line-up. She adds a spark to the bar team and brings unique skills and a big double layout full out dismount," said Smyth.
Beam: Stanford comes into this season with three All-Americans on the beam team, making the event another one in which the Cardinal should excel. Fee, Ourada and Yim were all All-Americans last year and Ishino has the potential to really shine on this event. Fee is an aggressive and charismatic performer and is in position for another strong campaign in 2008. Ourada placed third in the Nation last year on balance beam, one of the highest finishes of any Stanford gymnast on beam in school history. Other outstanding beam competitors fighting for spots in the line-up will be seniors Elmore, Gentry, Pintchouk, and Aimee Precourt as well as Janiga and Ikoma. With all the depth on beam this season, competition for line-ups should prove exciting.
"Lauren, one of the toughest beam competitors in Stanford history, is our starter and sets the tone for our beam team. Our team will compete with confidence and we will differentiate ourselves by our skill selection and difficulty on balance beam," said Smyth. "In addition, we have outstanding performers and we hope to showcase their lines, beauty and artistry."
Floor: The Floor Exercise is always a crowd favorite and the Stanford team is ready to put on a great show. With creative and upbeat routines combined with improved tumbling, the floor exercise team should be a force for the Cardinal. The team has continued to upgrade its difficulty on floor during the preseason and hopes to start the year off competing higher level tumbling passes. Returning competitors include Yim, Ourada, Janiga, Fee, Pintchouk, Tricase, Gentry, Ryland, and Elmore to 2008. Yim has been a top performer on the floor, including notable All-American honors in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Janiga earned All American honors on floor in 2007 as well for her outstanding combination of explosive tumbling and elegant dance. "We will incrementally increase the floor difficulty over the course of the year," said. Smyth. "We have great performers, and with the increased difficulty in our tumbling the floor team should be very competitive, and fun to watch."
Schedule: The Cardinal once again scheduled meets against some of the nation's best this season. Three time defending national champion Georgia visits Stanford on opening night and the Cardinal will also see Alabama, Nebraska, and UCLA (twice). Stanford will get tested against most of the nation's elite and will be in for a very exciting year.
"It is a pleasure to host perennial powerhouse programs like Georgia, Alabama and Nebraska," said Smyth. "We will be challenged against these great teams early and often and they will be good measuring sticks for us throughout the year. We know the competition will be tough, but we are looking forward to meeting them and hosting high-level gymnastics in the Bay Area."