1997-98 Gymnastics Outlook
Optimism and enthusiasm abound as the Stanford women's gymnastics squad
heads into the 1998 season, and for good reason. The Cardinal return every
member of last year's squad, arguably the most talented in school history, and
were further bolstered by a recruiting class with the ability to make an
immediate impact. Directing the program will be first-year head coach Mark
Cook. In Cook, the Cardinal get proven winner coming off a tremendously
successful stint as an assistant at UCLA, where he helped build the Bruins into
national champions. He understands what it takes to win, and more importantly,
how to win. The combination of the talent and the coaching makes both sides
excited about the possibilities. Thoughts of a Pac-10 championship and a
return to nationals are prevalent and if all goes according to plan, thoughts
of a national championship are not far away.
"Our team is extremely excited about this season and they are motivated,"
said Cook. "We are definitely making a run at nationals and trying to win the
Pac-10. Those are definite objectives this year. We have implemented a plan
that we expect to take us all the way to nationals on a consistent basis from
this year on and vie for a national championship - every year."
Last season, Stanford placed second at the Pac-10 Championships, the
highest finish ever by a Cardinal squad, breaking every school record along the
way. Injuries, which plagued the team by season's end, may have been the only
factor preventing the Cardinal from making back-to-back NCAA Championship
Barring any further serious injuries, this year's edition is deep and
talented. Highlighting the long list of returnees, all of which are
all-arounders, are co-captains Keri Monahan and Amy Murakami. Monahan, a
junior, despite having her season cut short last year do to a severe ankle
sprain just before the conference championships, turned in an impressive
campaign. The 1996 Pac-10 All-Conference selection was named the team's "Most
Outstanding Gymnast", broke the school vault record twice - topping out at a
near-perfect 9.975 - and tied for two others. She competed in all four events
in eight of Stanford 11 meets last season, missing two because of the injury.
"She (Monahan) is an outstanding athlete," said second-year assistant Wayne
Wright. "She would have been an All-American at nationals had she not suffered
the injury. She is a strong, strong leader. She is eager to get back to the
top, and she know what it takes to get there."
Murakami, a two-time Pac-10 All-Conference honoree and 1996 All-American,
is coming off a year in which she established or tied career-bests in every
event and all-around. She finished second on the uneven bars at the Pac-10
Championships and broke her own school record with a 9.975. Like Monahan,
Murakami was one of the Stanford's most consistent and durable performers,
competing in all four events in all but one meet.
"Amy also was a big team leader," said Wright. "She stayed around all
summer to work on her basics. She has made a lot of improvement and is going
to be even better this year."
Also returning are Stanford's two 1997 NCAA Championship individual
qualifiers Larissa Fontaine and Katie Fitzpatrick. Both qualified after third
place all-around finishes at the NCAA West Regionals. Fontaine, who was a
six-year member of the U.S. National team, brings to the table a tremendous
amount of experience at the national level and holds a lot of promise for the
Cardinal. As a freshman, she garnered numerous accolades, including three
second team All-American honors and Pac-10 All-Conference honors. She already
holds the school all-around record with a score of 39.550, which placed her
fourth at the conference championships, and tied the school record on the beam.
Fitzpatrick, a four-time U.S. Championships competitor, improved dramatically
in all four events last season as a sophomore and after a strong summer
training program, she figures to continue on that path.
Much of Stanford's success will rest in the depth of the squad. Seven more
returnees give Stanford perhaps the deepest unit in the Pac-10. Like so many
of her teammates, junior Tracey Kohl is coming off the best season of her
career. An all-around competitor in eight of the Cardinal's 11 meets, Kohl set
career-high's on the vault, beam and in the all-around. The Cardinal will be
given a big boost with the addition of sophomore Kim Young. One of the most
highly recruited gymnasts in the country following her senior year of high
school, Young was sidelined by injuries last season and was unable to compete.
An accomplished gymnast at the club level and member of the Senior
International Team, she worked out all summer to get herself back in shape and
to the level at which she was competing when recruited. Sophomore Ann
Thananopavarn turned in a stellar freshman campaign en route to Cardinal
Rookie-of-the-Year honors. With vaulting her strong suit, she turned in a
season-high 9.875 against Utah and followed that up with a 12th-place finish in
the event at the conference championships. Seniors Amy Neil and Christie Jones
and sophomores Sarah Harding and Tara LaMorte should see more time in the
lineup this season. Neil competed primarily on the bars and beam, matching or
setting career-high's on both. Jones competed mostly on the beam and began
vaulting near the end of the season, when she really came on strong. She
turned in her best scores at the conference championships and regionals and
will look to carry that momentum into the new season. Harding, voting the
team's "Most Inspirational Gymnast", missed the majority of her freshman year
due to a stress fracture in her lower back. She was able to work her way back
to action near the end of the season and is ready to go in '98. LaMorte, one
of the squad's top floor performers last season, will be counted on as such
again this season.
Completing the squad will be the addition of three outstanding and
highly-touted freshman. Highlighting the class is 1996 Canadian Olympian
Jennifer Exaltacion. One of the top gymnasts in Canada, Exaltacion is the
three-time defending national beam champion and a three-time national floor
champion. A very strong all-around performer, Exaltacion is a longtime veteran
of international competition and will make an immediate impact on the program.
Another incoming freshman, Jenny Wilson, comes to The Farm after a very
successful club career. The 1997 Oregon state champion and seven-time Level-10
National qualifier, Wilson is expected to see a great deal of time in the
lineup. Rounding out the class is local product She-Rae Chen. After a
two-year layoff from the sport due to injury, Chen resumed her gymnastics in
high school where she dominated the local scene. In both 1995 and 1996, she
won every event at the Central Coast Section Championships and nearly completed
the hat trick in '97, capturing all but the vault.
A deep, talented and well-coached team lends much promise to the 1998
season. While a return to the national stage is the main directive of the
program, there are other goals Cook sees as just as important.
"Getting to the NCAA Championships is definitely a goal," said Cook, "but
there are other goals. It's a situation where the goals are to do the best
gymnastics we can possibly do and the winning will take care of itself if that
happens. Besides that, we want to have a team that is connected, a team that
is enthusiastic - one that's enjoying the process and is not just focusing on
the end result. We want a team that is strong academically as well. We want a
team that can look back at the end of the year with no regrets, that they did
everything humanly possible to be the best that they can be in all things."
Following is an event-by-event breakdown:
With the vaulting code devaluing many of the common vaults and the addition of the round-off entry vault, the event will have a different look this season. Both Fitzpatrick and Fontaine plan to use the round-off entry vault. The strength of the lineup will be with Monahan and Wilson. Both are powerful and dynamic and possess tremendous explosiveness. Murakami, Kohl, Thananopavarn, Young and Exaltacion round out a team which should be solid and consistent.
The uneven bars will be one of the squad's strongest events. Everyone will have at least one release move and several of the athletes will have high-flying dismounts. The top performers will be Murakami and Exaltacion. Monahan and second team bar All-American Fontaine are also strong bar competitors. Kohl, Young, Wilson and Neil provide talent as well as depth to the team.
Consistency and execution will be the focus for the balance beam. There will be an increase in difficulty in both the tumbling series' and the dismounts of the competitors. Explosive and consistent, Exaltacion is expected to shine in this event. Fontaine, Monahan and Murakami will be the core of the lineup. LaMorte and Young look very strong. The depth continues with Kohl, Neil, Thananopavarn, Wilson and Chen.
Most of the team will be performing new routines this season. The music selection is strong and the routines should definitely be crowd pleasers. The team will be led by Monahan, Kohl and Murakami. They will provide the strength of the lineup with their artistic and tumbling ability. Fontaine, a second team All-American on the floor last season, will be performing a new routine this season. Both Exaltacion and Wilson have dynamic tumbling skill and will be great addition to a deep floor team. Look to see everyone see action in this event.