March 4, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - Nicole Pechanec always is enthusiastic after finishing a gymnastics routine, often jumping up and down in a joyful frenzy.
But on Sunday, she stayed on the ground.
In a Senior Day tri-meet that honored the Stanford women’s gymnastics class of Pechanec, Jenny Peter and Alyssa Brown, Pechanec stuck her uneven bars routine so well that she remained rooted to the spot.
With her arms pumping and head swiveling, Pechanec refused to move her feet to emphasize the "stickness" of the landing. The celebration of her winning performance seemed appropriate given the excitement and energy from the 1,250 fans who filled a packed Burnham Pavilion during Stanford’s home finale.
The No. 12 Cardinal scored a season-best 196.575 points to beat No. 17 Arizona (195.025) and No. 47 Cal (191.450).
Pechanec’s 9.925 on bars was one of five Stanford scores of 9.9 or above during a meet in which the Cardinal (9-3) won every event. Pechanec, the senior from Kenilworth, N.J., also placed second in two events and fourth in another on the way to scoring a career best 39.450 to win the all-around.
Adding to the story is coach Kristen Smyth’s approach to Pechanec, Stanford’s top all-arounder this year.
Smyth is trying to balance the toll of 20 years of gymnastics on Pechanec’s body by preserving her as best she can. This was only the third all-around Pechanec has competed in this season, and she won’t do so in the Cardinal’s regular-season finale at Arizona State on Friday.
“We’ve rested her most of the year and tried to manage her body so she has a chance at the end of the year," Smyth said. “That was the plan. She’ll certainly do all four events at Pac-12s, regionals, nationals, and certainly the Super Six. Those are goals we’ve had all year long and I think we’ve done a good job managing her body to allow that to happen.”
Pechanec tied season bests on three events and set or tied two career bests. She scored at least 9.8 in every event, including a 9.90 on floor exercise, an event in which she still plans to add difficulty for greater postseason scoring potential.
Smyth, for one, is eager to see how the season will play out for Pechanec, in her first season as Stanford’s alpha gymnast.
“People haven’t been able to appreciate her work the way they should,” Smyth said. “She’s holding back so she can be successful and really shine when she’s on the big stage.”
Perhaps then, they’ll see what Stanford has had all along – an artistically gifted gymnast who can turn a “routine” into a performance.
The Cardinal extended its’ unbeaten streak against Pac-12 opponents at Burnham to 34, increased its winning streak over Cal to 26 and over Arizona to 16, and has won 17 straight at home at both Burnham and Maples Pavilion.
In all, Stanford tied or established 15 season bests and eight career bests on Sunday, all while dropping Arizona to 9-5 and Cal to 4-9.
Ashley Morgan scored a 9.95 – Stanford’s highest score of the season – in winning the floor. Fellow Danville, Calif., native Amanda Spinner won the beam (9.850) and freshman Ivana Hong earned her first collegiate vault victory (9.90).
In addition, Nicole Dayton, who battled through a heel injury that prevented her from practicing this week, led off the floor with a 9.825 and anchored the vault with a 9.800.
“It showed a tremendous amount of leadership for her to be able to not really warm up at all and not train all week so we could rest the Achilles, and step in and start us off the way she did,” Smyth said. “She’s been a rock on vault all year, confident and aggressive.
“We really need her, especially in the vault and floor lineups. It makes a big difference. We’ve got a lot of beautiful dancers and artistic performers, but not a lot of power. So, for her to be able to start us off like that again, says a lot about who she is.”
Brown performed solidly in her third meet on vault after being limited to the beam in an effort to take the stress off an off-season shoulder injury. As the season has progressed, so has Brown. She scored a 9.875 on vault and is training for the bars with the hopes of breaking into the lineup in three events.
That may be difficult, however, after the Cardinal tied its season-high with a 49.400 on the bars, an increasingly difficult lineup to break into. Every counting score was 9.850 or above, including Peter’s 9.850, her best in two seasons.
Peter missed last season with a knee injury and has been somewhat limited this year too as she attempts to re-establish herself in an active role.
“She has come back and battled back from injuries,” Smyth said. “She made an upgrade to her bar routine with that double layout. To see her complete that and stick it at the end was amazing. All of her hard work is paying off.”
An area of improvement remains the beam. There were no falls, but four of the six marks were in the 9.7 range and team scored under 49.0.
“It’s frustrating because we have such great potential on beam,” Smyth said. “It’s just little moments, little lapses, the dismounts weren’t crisp. To hit beam for 9.7’s is not really what we’re capable of or really what we’re looking for.
“The beam should be a 49.2-49.3 for us. It’s what we do day in and day out in the gym and it’s what we’re capable of doing. We would really like to see the beam team show that under pressure.”
Smyth knew a long time ago that her team’s best performances would come late in the year when gymnasts return to health, take on more events, and add difficulty to their routines. With more healthy bodies, there is greater competition for lineup spots and higher scores.
Smyth’s expectations seem to be right on. There still remains room to grow, and it’s easy to see the team’s untapped upside.
“I know at the end of the year, we’re going to be a force as everything starts to come together,” Smyth said.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics
Final team scores:
Individual winners and Stanford scores:
All-Around: 1, Nicole Pechanec (Stanford) 39.450.
Records: Stanford 9-3, Arizona 9-5, California 4-9.