December 29, 1998
When a team comes off a season filled with a variety of first-time achievements, it is often difficult to counter that season with another year of success. That will be the major challenge facing the Stanford Women's Gymnastics team for the 1999 season. Coming off a 1998 season that included winning the Pac-10 Championship and an individual NCAA Championship, that were both firsts in school history, the squad will attempt to take another first, the NCAA Team Championship.
First and foremost, the person who is responsible for taking the team to the top is second-year Head Coach Mark Cook. In just one year at Stanford, Cook has transformed the women's gymnastics program into a proven winner. From the coaches to the gymnasts, everyone associated with the women's gymnastics program is poised and ready for the upcoming season.
"This year, our team is very focused on the upcoming season," said Cook. "The freshmen are very hungry and everybody wants to pursue a national championship. Of course, we want to have fun, but we still have that goal to win the NCAA Title. Unlike last year, we have that confidence to make it happen."
Another change from last year that might lead to even more success in 1999 is a healthier squad. After being hurt by injuries at the beginning of last season, this year's team appears to be the healthiest it has been in years.
"This team, as a whole, has returned healthier than a year ago," added Cook. "We still have some minor injuries, but they are not as severe as last season."
As is the case for any championship squad, the seniors will be looked upon to provide leadership and experience for the team. Leading the way this season, are Stanford seniors Katie Fitzpatrick, Tracey Kohl, and Amy Murakami. A native of Centerville, Ohio, Fitzpatrick will be looked upon to step it up after missing most of last season due to an ankle injury. The team's best all-around gymnast last season, Murakami returns to lead the team in all aspects of competition. Meanwhile, Tracey Kohl is back to showcase her strongest event, the floor exercise.
After missing time last year due to injuries, two other gymnasts who will be looked to make contributions are Jen Exaltacion and Larissa Fontaine. A 1996 Canadian Olympian, Exaltacion has made very good progress since suffering a stress fracture last season. The 1998 NCAA Champion in the vault, Fontaine is slowly progressing from an injury last season but, should return in time to lead the team and defend her title.
Three other gymnasts to look out for are Sarah Harding, Jenny Wilson, and Kim Young. Add those athletes to a group of four top-ranked recruits in Kristen Derr, Katy Herbert, Kristin Jensen and Becky Meldrum and the Stanford women's gymnastics squad will be a team to watch in 1999.
"If we can be smart and stay healthy," said Cook. "Then we will be very well prepared to meet any team that we come up against. Realistically, we all feel we are a Top Six team in the country and now we have to go out and prove it with the class, integrity and sportsmanship that we are known for."
The following is an event-by-event breakdown:
Uneven Parallel Bars - The uneven parallel bar event should be the team's strongest event. Probably the deepest position, everyone on the team has the potential to make a difference on this event. With routines that are knee deep in difficulty and have well-executed dismounts, Stanford will be a very exciting team to watch on this event. While Jen Exaltacion has increased her difficulty, the return of Larissa Fontaine has bolstered the team. In addition, the steady performances of Fitzpatrick, Harding, Murakami, Wilson, and Young will add depth. Meanwhile, the addition of freshmen Herbert, Jensen, and Meldrum will add to the talent.
Vault - The vault should fall slightly behind the bars as the strength of the team. Of course, the gymnast to watch out for is Fontaine, last year's NCAA Champion in the event. The strength of the lineup will also be Fitzpatrick and sophomore vaulting phenom Wilson. Exaltacion and Murakami will be looking to add new vaults this season while freshmen Derr, Herbert, Jensen and Meldrum are all capable of entering the vault lineup.
Floor Exercise - With more diversified tumbling routines than last year, Stanford will add to the flavor of the floor routines this season. Leading the team will be the steady routines of Exaltacion, Harding and Murakami. In addition, Young and Fontaine will be looked upon to add more tumbling passes. Kohl will also be asked to add experience and improvement as well.
Balance Beam - Thanks to a variety of new dismounts, Stanford will have a more confident, solid beam squad performing in 1999. The team will be led by a variety of performances by Exaltacion, Herbert, and Murakami. Expect to see steady improvements by Meldrum, Wilson and Young in the beam as well.