April 23, 2010
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -
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The Stanford women's gymnastics team overcame early obstacles to produce its finest performance of the season to place fourth - one spot from its best-ever finish - at the NCAA Super Six finals Friday at University of Florida's O'Connell Center.
Stanford rebounded from a balance beam fall on its opening routine of the meet and finished with Carly Janiga's near-perfect 9.95 on the uneven bars to score 197.100 points and pass Florida in the team race. UCLA won its sixth national title, scoring 197.725 points, and was followed by Oklahoma (197.250), Alabama (197.225), Stanford, Florida (197.000), and Utah (196.225).
Though Janiga, a nine-time All-American, will compete in three events in Saturday's Individual Event Finals, alongside fellow senior Blair Ryland, the meet essentially marks the end of the collegiate careers of the most successful class in Stanford history.
The five-member class that also includes Stephanie Carter, Allyse Ishino, and Tenaya West reached the Super Six three times, more than any other class at Stanford.
"They get to go out with such pride," Stanford coach Kristen Smyth said, "knowing they took this program where it had never been."
Stanford was a preseason coaches' choice to finish eighth in the nation, and had some rough patches throughout the season. The finals were a microcosm of that season for Stanford, which ultimately proved too resilient to be held down. The Cardinal never had a meet where it hit all 24 routines, but still found ways to win.
"We might be in a sticky situation," Janiga said, "but we have each other's backs and we know that. If someone goes down, you can't get down on yourself because you know the next person is going to be there to rock it."
For instance, Ishino had struggled while weakened by an illness in Thursday's team preliminaries, but proved to be the stopper on Friday. With Stanford under pressure to hit every other routine in the opening series, or else be essentially eliminated from the team race in the first rotation, Ishino followed with a 9.8 to get the Cardinal back on track.
On the floor, a misstep nearly forced Stanford to count a 9.70, but West closed it out with a 9.85 to give Stanford a team score of 49.325 on the event and get back in the chase. The Cardinal followed with a 49.400 on the vault, its' best event score.
Needing a 49.175 on the bars to reach 197 for the first time this season, Ishino stuck a 9.875 and Janiga closed it out with a 9.95 that matched her collegiate career high and drew a 10.0 from one judge.
"This is one team that doesn't like to do things the easy way," Janiga said. "We'll make it hard on ourselves, but that just shows how tough we are."
Stanford has twice finished third, in 2004 and 2008, but those teams were more polished than this group. In fact, there were a lot of question marks throughout the season as Smyth looked toward the day when the team could put it all together.
The team didn't totally achieve it, but no one was disappointed. They came through under pressure and produced when it counted.
"This team has grown so much since the start of the year," Smyth said. "Every weekend they started to believe more and more that they were capable of doing great things."
After Janiga's final effort - completing a day in which she also produced scores of 9.925 (floor) and 9.90 (vault) - the seniors gathered together in a close and tearful embrace.
"We were reflecting on the past four years together, and how we've led the team this year," Janiga said. "Not just us, but everybody on the team really stepped up throughout the year.
"I was just kind of relishing the moment, and soaking it in."
So, was Stanford.