Feb. 26, 2007
Stanford, CA - The Stanford women's gymnastics team survived a trying travel challenge over the weekend as they braved a blizzard en route to the Masters Classic at the University of Nebraska. LSU, also scheduled to compete, was stranded by weather in Dallas but NC State made it safely to Lincoln for what became a three team invitational. The Card started the day with a disappointing balance beam rotation that left them in a deep, early hole. They put together three solid events afterwards, but it was not enough to catch the Huskers and the final tally left Stanford with only its second loss of the season, 195.8 to Nebraska's 196.35. NC State took third with a 194.475. All three of Stanford's All Around competitors struggled, but freshman Carly Janiga's 39.15 was enough to capture second place behind Husker Emily Parson's 39.25.
The Cardinal flew into Omaha Saturday night and ended up stranded at a hotel in Omaha, but they were able to make it to Lincoln Sunday morning after a challenging drive that showcased a large number of vehicles discarded along the way. The team drew a start on balance beam in the invitational format, the first time this year they were put in that position. That would mean a finish on their strongest event, the uneven bars, but beam is a tough place to work out competition jitters at the start of a meet. Junior beam lead-off artist Lauren Elmore looked largely unaffected, with a solid routine for a 9.725 that was matched by classmate Alex Pintchouk in the next lineup slot. Things got shaky from there, however, as Janiga had a rare but major balance check in her flight series (back handspring layout stepout) for a 9.575. Sophomore Kelly Fee had an equally large error on her front aerial that cost her and resulted in an even lower 9.55. Junior Aimee Precourt turned in a solid, if slightly tentative performance under the pressure of following two misses, but her 9.7 was not enough to offset a near fall on a front aerial by sophomore Nicole Ourada in a routine that closed out the rotation with a painful 9.275. The team total of 48.275 put Stanford in third place after the first rotation saw the Huskers hit vault for a 49.225 and NC State turn in a solid bar rotation for a 48.725
"I'm very disappointed with the balance beam performance," said Head Coach Kristen Smyth. "Coming out with all the nerves and wobbles on balance beam put us in a big hole to start, but the team really rallied and pulled together for the next three events."
One of the Card's great improvements this season has been their mental toughness and this may have been the most significant test yet, as they moved to floor exercise and faced the prospect of a daunting climb to catch Nebraska. Pintchouk led off with another great effort, with just a minor error in her second pass (front handspring front layout with a full twist to a punch front pike) that put a 9.775 in the bank. Elmore provided one of the highlights of the evening, returning to the floor lineup for the first time since her junior year and performing beautifully for a 9.825 with a difficulty-packed set (double pike, whip 1/2 front 1/1 front, 2 1/2 twist punch front). Fee then tied her career best with three great landings and improved dance for a 9.875. Ourada and Janiga have been the big guns this year on floor for Stanford and both were just a little bit off on their first tumbling passes (piked 1/1 in and Arabian double front) for matching 9.8s. Freshman Blair Ryland then closed out the rotation with a career best 9.85 in a clutch performance. The team's 49.15 was enough to move them ahead of NC State at the half-way mark and close the gap on the Huskers to a little more than five tenths.
Vault looked to be a bit of a question mark before the afternoon started, as sophomore Heather Purnell had to watch from the sidelines in the wake of a knee injury last weekend and Gentry had been unable to train all week with a neck strain. Fortunately the latter stepped up and led off with a nice effort on her full-twisting Yurchenko for a 9.75. Ourada then came back like a veteran and did the best vault of her collegiate career with a lawn-dart landing on a big Yurchenko full for a 9.9. Janiga nearly matched that with the first stuck landing of her collegiate journey for a 9.85. Unfortunately Pintchouk overrotated and landed out of control on her layout with a 1/2 twist for a 9.625 that put some pressure on Ryland and freshman Stephanie Carter in the last two spots. Carter turned in a huge vault on cue, however, for a much-needed 9.8 and Ryland matched her career-best effort with a 9.75. The rotation score of 49.05 gave the Card a little more cushion over the Wolfpack but only made up half a tenth on the Huskers going into the last event.
If there is one place where Stanford is confident of their ability to close out other teams, it is the uneven bars, where the squad has been ranked No. 1 in the nation for most of this season under Assistant Coach Chris Swircek's tutelage. With Nebraska finishing on floor, it would take some help from them and a tremendous effort by the Stanford swingers in order to re-take the lead. Fee led off with a very strong showing for a 9.85 and was nearly matched by Elmore, who was just returning to the bar lineup after a two week hiatus. Ourada struggled a bit on the landing for her double layout dismount, but the last three Card competitors did what they've done all season. Pintchouk lawn-darted her double layout dismount for a 9.875 and Janiga equaled that landing with an even better routine for a 9.925. Another highlight of the evening followed when junior All American Tabitha Yim rejoined the bar lineup after a month of injury recovery time and contributed an impressive 9.9. The team total for bars was a terrific 49.325 but it was not enough to overcome a solid Nebraska finish, giving the Huskers the upset.
The Cardinal now look forward to a weekend off from competition before returning to the friendly confines of Burnham Pavilion, on Friday, March 9 when they host the University of Oklahoma at 7:30 pm. They'll also have one more home meet two weeks later, March 25 against UCLA. As they come down the home stretch towards Pac-10 Championships March figures to be a critical month for the team. "Every meet from here on out is very important in terms of building confidence, getting some key players back, fine tuning and getting ready for post-season," said Smyth. "It's going to be nice to finally be home in Burnham Pavilion. Burnham is so much more intimate than Maples and the energy is so great that the girls get very excited to compete there. We're hosting two great teams and they should be really exciting events."