Dec. 17, 2004
What do you do for an encore following the most successful season in program history, a season in which you placed third at the NCAA Super Six and claimed Pac-10 and West Regional titles? If you're Kristen Smyth and the Stanford women's gymnastics program, you simply bring in one of the nation's top recruiting classes, add it to a strong returning group that includes one of the top all-around performers in collegiate gymnastics and continue your push towards the program's first-ever national championship.
The 2005 women's gymnastics team features 11 women that are poised to build on the recent success of the Cardinal squad, and take strides towards shaping Stanford into one of the elite programs in the nation.
"Every year we're trying to build, and improve our reputation on the national scene," said Smyth. "Only four teams have ever won a national championship, so for us to have finished third last year really sent a message that we are a program on the rise. I think that coming in on the heels of last year's performance gives this year's team great confidence."
Picking up where last year's squad left off appears to be a tall order for the 2005 squad. Five key performers graduated from last year's team, with four of them having received All-American honors during their respective careers.
"Kendall Beck, Caroline Fluhrer, Shelly Goldberg, Lise Leveille, and Lindsay Wing led an unbelievably talented group of girls and were unstoppable in terms of what they could accomplish by the end of last season," said Smyth. "The group chemistry was phenomenal and they gelled like no other team I've seen before."
The group formed the nucleus of a team that produced the most outstanding season in Cardinal gymnastics history. The 2004 Stanford squad captured the Pac-10 Conference and the West Regional titles, before hitting 54-of-54 routines at the NCAA National Championship and tying with Alabama for a best-ever third place finish.
"It was the type of season that you dream of having as a coach," added Smyth. "To have that type of performance in just my third year here at Stanford was pretty remarkable."
Despite losing their strong seniors, Smyth and the Cardinal coaching staff are excited about teaming a solid core of returning performers with six phenomenal talents in the incoming freshman class.
"Last season was incredible, but this team is a whole new group," said Smyth. "I am looking forward to seeing how this young team works together and I am anticipating them taking some time to get comfortable performing in a collegiate setting. We also have a couple of key players returning from injuries that should be full strength by March. The skill level that we'll have on the floor this year is higher than it has been in the past, and by championship season we should be stronger than ever."
With no seniors on this season's squad, the junior class will be looked to for leadership on the competition floor. Natalie Foley emerged as a one of the nation's top all-around performers last season, claiming First Team All-American honors in the vault, uneven bars, floor exercise, and the all-around, while notching Second Team recognition on the balance beam. Foley is the reigning Pac-10 all-around champion and has received All-American accolades eight times during her two seasons on The Farm. Glyn Sweets battled injuries throughout much of the 2004 season, but is expected to return to the form that made her an All-American on beam and vault as a freshman. Jessica Louie will share the team captain duties with Foley this season, and will set the tone for the Cardinal on the vault, uneven bars and floor exercise.
"Our three juniors will be the leaders of this team," stated Smyth. "They have competed in a Super Six, and know what it takes to compete at the top level in the country. They know what it takes to get a team to that next level."
Stacy Sprando and Brittany Billmaier make up the sophomore class and will contribute in several different areas. Sprando saw a large amount of action on beam and bars last year, and will look to add the floor exercise to her repertoire this season. Billmaier missed the 2004 campaign due to injury, but has emerged as a team leader and will contribute on the beam and floor for Coach Smyth.
"Stacy got a lot of experience last year and was a solid competitor for us," said Smyth. "She's back in even better form and ready to contribute in more events this season. Brittany is back from an injury and is looking strong. She has great enthusiasm and is an unbelievable leader."
The incoming freshman class has been touted as the top recruiting class in the nation, and each of the six gymnasts will see substantial action in 2005. The class is headlined by Liz Tricase and Tabitha Yim, both participants in the U.S. Olympic trials last summer. Tricase is incredibly explosive and dynamic and will jump right into the Cardinal lineup as an all-around performer, while Yim continues to rebound from injury and will hope to contribute her unique performance style on several events this season. Lauren Elmore, Stephanie Gentry, Alex Pintchouk and Aimee Precourt each bring unique qualities to the 2005 squad and round out this outstanding freshman class. Pintchouk adds outstanding ability as an all around performer but is especially talented on the floor exercise and balance beam events, while Gentry brings strong artistic ability and a great range of motion to all four events. Precourt is especially strong on the beam and floor exercise, while Elmore is a solid and confident competitor on all four events and is expected to be a strong starter on beam for the Cardinal.
"The six women coming in make up the top recruiting class in the country," said Smyth. "Each one of them offers something unique and special. This group brings a level of artistry, performance quality, and showmanship that has never been seen at Stanford."
The squad will be challenged throughout the spring, as the Cardinal will face an extremely tough schedule that includes four of last season's Super Six teams. Stanford gymnastics will begin the season on the road against California (January 14) and Washington (January 21), before returning to The Farm for the home opener against Oregon State (January 28). The Cardinal make visits to Central Michigan (February 4) and Arizona (February 11), and continues Pac-10 competition by hosting reigning NCAA Champion UCLA (February 18) at Maples Pavilion. Following a home meet against Arizona State (February 25), the team embarks on its most challenging weekend of the season when it heads to Utah to take on the Utes, Florida, and Iowa State (March 4), before returning home to face Alabama (March 6). The Cardinal travel to San Jose State (March 19) to wrap up the regular season and to prepare for the Pac-10 Championships (March 26) in Berkeley.
"It's the most competitive schedule we've ever had," surmised Smyth. "With our team being so young, the best way for them to get collegiate experience is to compete against the best teams possible. The level of gymnastics that we will see is very high, and the quality of gymnastics at all of our meets will be outstanding."
Stanford's home meets against Oregon State (January 28) and Arizona State (February 25) will be held in Burnham Pavilion, while the home meets against UCLA (February 18) and Alabama (March 6) will be hosted at the newly renovated Maples Pavilion.
"Our goal is to have each of our two meets in Maples draw 5,000 fans," said Smyth. "The student-athletes that we have competing and the level of our opponents make it well worth the price of admission. We've sold out many meets in Burnham Pavilion, and it will be great to continue that level of support for the ladies in Maples."
The vault will be one of Stanford's top events in 2005, as the Cardinal return several outstanding performers and have great depth in the event. Coach Smyth's squad already boasts one of the nation's top vaulters in junior Natalie Foley. Foley was tabbed for First Team All-American honors on the vault last season and scored a perfect 10.0 on vault at the Pac-10 Championships on her way to winning the vaulting title. Joining Foley on the vault is freshman Liz Tricase, who has won numerous championships in the event and has the capability of doing several different explosive vaults that start at a 10.0. Junior Glyn Sweets earned All-American honors on the vault following the 2003 season, and will be relied upon to return to the form that made her one of the nation's top vaulters two seasons ago. Junior Jessica Louie will also see time on vault, and freshmen Alex Pintchouk, Lauren Elmore, Stephanie Gentry, and Aimee Precourt will be key performers in the upcoming season's vault lineup.
"We tend to start out slowly on vault because of its physically demanding nature. We make improvements throughout the season and our goal is to peak in April," commented Smyth. "We expect big things from our returning performers, and our freshmen have the potential to be some of the top vaulters in the country."
The uneven bars are expected to be Stanford's strongest event heading into the season. Natalie Foley received First Team All-American accolades in the event last season, and averaged a score of 9.844. Liz Tricase will also be featured on the uneven bars, with a routine that includes several major releases. Foley and Tricase perform two of the most difficult bar routines in collegiate gymnastics, and will be the closers for the Stanford lineup. Stacy Sprando and Jessica Louie were two key starters on the bars last season, and will once again be integral members of the bar team. Glyn Sweets is a top bar worker who saw action in the Super Six last season, and performs a routine with unique stalder work and explosive releases. Among the freshmen, Stephanie Gentry, Lauren Elmore, Alex Pintchouk, and Aimee Precourt will provide depth and should get a wealth of experience on the bars in 2005. Coach Smyth looks to add freshman Tabitha Yim and her outstanding skills to the uneven bars at some point this season, as she continues to rebound from an injury.
"The uneven bars are an event where I feel like we can separate ourselves," stated Smyth. "We have such outstanding athletes with unique qualities on our bar team. It's been a solid event for us in the past, and we expect this year's bar team to be among the best in the country."
This season's beam team will have a very different look than last year's squad, as Coach Smyth will have to replace four of the six beam routines from 2004. Natalie Foley will take on a new role as the anchor for the Cardinal on beam this season, building off her strong beam performances in 2004. A Second Team All-American on the beam last season, Foley is a mentally tough competitor that performs a difficult routine and will set the tone for the squad. Glyn Sweets has proven herself as a top beam worker, garnering Second Team All-American honors in the event in 2003 and will be a key member of the Stanford beam team. Stacy Sprando is another returning beam competitor who demonstrated outstanding consistency and saw considerable action as a freshman last season. Alex Pintchouk has the ability to step in and become one of the team's top beam workers immediately, while Liz Tricase has displayed excellent beam skills and features a big dismount in her routine. Lauren Elmore brings great intensity to the event and has shown promise as a potential starter on beam, and Aimee Precourt provides consistency and a solid routine to the beam team. Stephanie Gentry is an extremely elegant beam worker and will also compete for time on the beam along with sophomore Brittany Billmaier, who possesses outstanding skills and has displayed great showmanship on this event. Tabitha Yim is expected to be one of the top beam workers in the country despite being just a freshman. Yim is a 2001 World Championship medalist on beam and is often touted as one of the most beautiful and artistic beam performers in the world.
"We have great potential on beam, with a number of fantastic athletes making up our beam team," stated Smyth. "They have the skills and choreography, but it will take a few meets for them to gel together as a group and be the type of aggressive beam team that we've grown accustomed to at Stanford. We have been working on this and look to improve throughout the season. The reality in collegiate gymnastics is if you have a mentally tough beam team that hits routines, you win meets."
The Cardinal coaching staff is enthusiastic about the team's potential on the floor exercise for the upcoming season. Natalie Foley was tabbed for First Team All-American honors in the floor exercise last season, and brings solid tumbling and performance quality to her routine. Liz Tricase has incredible ranges of motion, and will be a phenomenal talent on the floor. A tremendous dancer and performer, Tricase has the potential to make her mark as an NCAA champion in the floor exercise. Jessica Louie enjoyed an outstanding year on the floor last season and brings a new routine into the 2005 campaign, while Glyn Sweets is a great floor worker that is expected to contribute for the Cardinal. A number of freshmen will also compete for a spot on the floor team this season. Lauren Elmore is an exceptional tumbler, while Alex Pintchouk has displayed outstanding showmanship and Stephanie Gentry is a beautiful dancer that also has the ability to pull off big tumbling passes. Aimee Precourt is also a talented floor worker as is Stacy Sprando and Brittany Billmaier. These three will provide the squad with depth in the floor exercise, with each gymnast capable of standout performances. Coach Smyth hopes to add Tabitha Yim to the lineup by the end of season. Yim is a captivating performer with a unique floor routine and has displayed the talent to compete for an NCAA championship on this event.
"We're anticipating great things from our floor team this season," stated Smyth. "This event has the potential to be worth the price of admission on its own. These athletes are outstanding performers combined with explosive tumbling ability and are going to be extremely fun to watch."
The 2005 Stanford women's gymnastics season promises to be an exciting one. Cardinal gymnastics fans can look forward to the continued presence of Natalie Foley as one of the nation's top all-around gymnasts, as well as the return of Glyn Sweets to full health this season. Fans can also look forward to the development of a highly touted freshman class that will be called upon immediately to contribute to the team's success on the competition floor in 2005. Ultimately, coach Smyth and the Cardinal gymnastics squad will be looking to reach their second straight Super Six, and move a step closer to capturing the program's first-ever national championship. Having finished in a tie for third place last season, Stanford women's gymnastics is just a step away.
"This program has come so far in such a short period of time," said Smyth. "Having broken into the top three last season, I really feel like we've turned the corner and are ready to make our mark as a national title contender. We knew we had to prove ourselves, and last year was a step in the right direction. I feel that a championship is no longer a hope or a dream, but a reality. We're working hard to achieve that goal, and we really feel that we're getting close."