STANFORD, Calif. – With an experienced group of upperclassmen and a wealth of talented youth, there is plenty for Stanford to be excited about as it begins the 2014 season.
The Cardinal opens its regular season Sunday at 2 p.m. at the NorCal Quad Meet hosted by Sacramento State. Stanford will take on No. 22 California, Sacramento State, UC Davis and San Jose State.
Ranked ninth in the nation in the preseason coaches poll, Stanford returns 11 gymnasts, including five All-Americans, and welcomes a talented group of six freshmen after graduating two seniors from the 2013 roster. The Cardinal made its 10th NCAA Championships appearance in the past 13 years, 30th consecutive regional competition and compiled a 15-7 regular season record last season.
While Stanford will have to replace two significant contributors from last year’s squad, graduated seniors Ashley Morgan and Nicole Dayton, head coach Kristen Smyth believes the 11 returners and addition of the six freshmen gives the team something it has not had in previous years – depth.
“We have a lot of depth and it’s something that creates competitiveness in the gym,” Smyth said. “Gymnasts want to get in the lineups and it raises everybody’s level each day.”
Smyth adds the deep lineups will help keep the team fresh as it enters postseason competition in April.
While Stanford is known for its consistency and artistry, Smyth believes this year’s team will also feature more powerful gymnastics than in years past.
“The freshmen bring an unbelievable amount of power and explosiveness,” Smyth said. “Combine that with the artistic beauty we bring and I think the fans will really enjoy what we put out on the floor.”
The fans will also likely enjoy the top-tier schedule the Cardinal will embark on, with eight of its 13 opponents ranked in the preseason top 25. Stanford will play host to No. 8 Georgia in its home opener on Jan. 12, No. 17 Arizona (Jan. 19), No. 6 Utah (Feb. 17) and No. 22 California (March 3). It will be Utah’s first trip to The Farm since 1998 and Georgia’s first appearance since 2008.
The Cardinal will also see top competition on the road, facing defending Pac-12 champion No. 12 Oregon State on Feb. 3, No. 20 Washington (Feb. 8), No. 4 UCLA (Feb. 22) and No. 2 Alabama (March 2).
“The best preparation possible for this team is to see top programs,” Smyth said. “I’m excited for our fans to see programs like Utah and Georgia at home. I hope people come out to see these meets that will feature two of the top teams in the country.
“Getting to see Alabama away – to be in that environment, that atmosphere – will be one of those memories our gymnasts get to walk away with for the rest of their lives.”
Smyth hopes the challenging schedule will provide her team with the experience and preparation needed to make its seventh NCAA Super Six appearance in program history. The Cardinal is currently one of seven teams in the country to make six NCAA Super Six appearances in the past 12 years.
“The goal every year is to be one of those top six teams competing for a national title at the end of the year,” Smyth said. “This team has what it takes to get there. Our plan is to come out strong, be confident and consistent in our work, and then build throughout the season.”
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Amanda Spinner, Shona Morgan and Kristina Vaculik will provide the Cardinal with leadership and consistency. Smyth says the group has been crucial in bringing along the younger gymnasts and setting the tone in practice for what is expected in training and preparing for competition.
Spinner is the reigning Pac-12 Specialist of the Year and third-year team captain. Her primary event is beam, though she saw action on bars in two meets last season. Smyth describes Spinner as a “natural-born leader” and adds that, “When it comes to her emotional leadership, there’s nobody that comes close.”
Morgan was Stanford’s most consistent performer in 2013, competing in bars, beam and floor in all but one competition. She scored a 9.750 or higher in 33 of 35 performances. Morgan will likely compete in the opening position on all three events this year to ensure the Cardinal starts each event with a strong score.
Vaculik raised her hand for Stanford last year after taking a year off to compete for Team Canada at the 2012 London Olympics. She competes in all four events and is expected to be a top performer on bars and beam.
The junior class – consisting of Pauline Hanset, Rebecca Wing, Samantha Shapiro, Alex Archer and Ivana Hong – contributed one of the program’s most spectacular performances two years ago as freshmen when they helped lead Stanford to a fourth-place NCAA Super Six finish. The group delivered strong performances as sophomores and is expected to shine again this year.
Hanset had a strong showing early in 2013 as a consistent performer on vault, beam and floor. She missed the end of the season with an injury but is ready to contribute this year on the three events. Smyth expects Hanset to anchor the team on floor and vault.
After being sidelined by an injury for the beginning of the 2013 season, Wing made a statement during her first competition back, delivering a 9.900 on bars at the March 1 tri-meet against Oregon State and California. Smyth says Wing will likely be a regular on beam and compete for spots on bars.
Shapiro had a strong 2013 season on bars after earning All-America honors as a freshman. She worked her way into the floor lineup last season, including during the postseason. Smyth describes Shapiro’s work on bars as “stunning and world-class.”
Archer will look to ride the momentum from her strong finish in 2013. Archer fought for lineup spots on bars early last season and held a regular lineup spot throughout the postseason. She scored a collegiate-best 9.875 at the NCAA Preliminaries. Archer also competed on vault twice last year and is expected to compete in both events again this year.
“Alex finished last year lights-out on bars and really came into her own,” Smyth said. “She worked all season long for that opportunity and to see her grab that moment and perform the way she did was phenomenal. She could be one of the best in the country this year.”
Hong will be limited to begin the season after sustaining an injury during the 2013 NCAA Championships. Hong is a highlight performer for the Cardinal and held the team’s highest all-around score (39.575) and shared the top vault score (9.950).
Rice had an outstanding freshman year and earned All-America honors on floor. She competed on vault and floor for a majority of the season and earned a regular spot on beam for the postseason. Rice worked on improving her bars routine during the summer and will likely compete in all four events this season.
“She does everything you would want a college gymnast to do,” Smyth said. “She’s a performer and she grabs the audience. She has so many amazing qualities that when she steps out on the floor, people want to watch her.”
Chuang competed on vault and floor in the first five meets of last season but was sidelined by an injury. She returned for the NCAA Preliminaries and posted a 9.800 on vault. Chuang will likely compete on vault and beam this season.
Frowein did not compete in 2013 but is expected to provide depth for the Cardinal this year on floor and bars. She earned a lineup spot on floor during the preseason meet with San Jose State and recorded one of the team’s highest scores in the event. Smyth considers Frowein to be one of the team’s hardest workers.
This year’s freshman class consists of six gymnasts – Nicolette McNair, Danielle McNair, Rachel Daum, Haley Spector, Sophia Lee and Carinne Gale – who are expected to compete for lineup spots and contribute this season.
“What I’m seeing from this group is that they’re very competitive,” Smyth said. “These kids exude confidence.”
Nicolette McNair is a dynamic and powerful all-arounder. Smyth describes Nicolette’s gymnastics as, “big, bold and confident.” Nicolette will likely compete in all four events and excels on floor and vault.
Danielle McNair is strong on bars and will compete for lineup spots on vault. Smyth considers Danielle to be a powerful gymnast that will add quality depth in multiple events.
Daum has proven herself to be a strong all-arounder throughout fall training. She is particularly strong on vault and floor and will likely see time in both lineups.
Spector is one of the most competitive gymnasts in the freshman class and excels on floor. Smyth has been impressed with Spector’s ability to take what is said in practice and apply it immediately in her routines.
Sophia Lee will compete for spots on vault, beam and bars. Smyth adds Lee has looked good in the preseason and expects her to challenge for lineups spots throughout the year.
Carinne Gale has been active throughout fall training but will likely redshirt this year due to an injury. Smyth notes Gale is a positive presence in the gym and will have an impact in the years ahead.
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Watch highlights from Stanford’s preseason exhibition against San Jose State.
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Meet the 2014 team seven seconds at time.