Jan. 28, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY -
The Stanford women's gymnastics class of 2012 always has been gifted with a certain sense of responsibility.
As freshmen, the class of Alyssa Brown, Nicole Pechanec, Jenny Peter, and Alexandra Skoly carried a confidence and assuredness that, as sophomores, they strived to impart to the younger class.
Now, as juniors, their influence can be felt throughout the Cardinal team as their leadership responsibilities have grown even further.
When asked about the unique qualities of this year's team, which enters Friday's meet at Utah ranked No. 2 in the country, the juniors made it clear that faith in oneself and in each teammate is a driving force.
"We have this inside feeling that we know we're good," Nicole Pechanec said.
Last year's team took the whole 2010 season to find its way before coming together to earn its highest score of the season in its final meet - a fourth-place performance at the NCAA Super Six finals.
That momentum carried into off-season preparation, and the result has been a team sharper at this point than any other Stanford squad in recent memory.
The evidence was the team's performance at the season-opening Pac-10 Showcase at UCLA on Jan. 9. Stanford did not miss a routine - a feat it could not claim in 2010 - and beat the six other conference schools with a score of 196.625 points.
Pechanec said the spirit of this year's Cardinal can be best illustrated by freshman Shona Morgan, on her blog after the meet: "the competition was a blast; we got to show off all our hard work, and had a great amount of fun doing it ... The fact that we won is just icing on the cake."
Each of the juniors has adapted a different role:
Brown is the team's rock, taking on the pressure of balance beam leadoff and uneven bars anchor, and Pechanec brings a unique style and grace to floor and bars.
Peter had her promising season cut short by a knee injury, but remains ever positive and has a desire to help wherever needed. And Skoly, whose collegiate career has been sidetracked by a series of injuries, brings energy, vocal support, and motivation.
"We just have this feeling that we have the ability to win," Skoly said. "We've always had it in the past, and it's always been in the back of our minds. But this year, it's special."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics