June 24, 2008
Championship Season Review
The Cardinal women's gymnastics team had lofty goals for 2008 and accomplished many of them in an historical season that culminated in their fourth appearance at the Super Six in the past seven years. Their first back-to-back appearance in the Super Six in the program's history was one of many milestones and accomplishments. The team finished third in the country, tying the highest finish in school history and received seven All-American awards. The team also finished second at the NCAA Regional meet with a season high score of 197.525 and won their fifth Pac-10 Conference title.
The Cardinal had a slow start in 2008, but by mid-season they began to emerge as one of the top teams in the country. The senior-laden 2008 team was determined to get back to a Super Six and compete for a national title. A 20-4 record in the regular season was keyed by late season success as the Cardinal scored their five highest scores in their last seven meets. The result was that the Cardinal were ranked tenth in the final three weeks, and finished the season third, accomplishing a seven-spot surge in the national rankings. This kind of a late season push is almost unheard of in the sport and spoke of the commitment the team had to return to the biggest stage.
"It was exciting to see the team improve every weekend and come from behind. With each successful outing their confidence grew. They began to prove and believe that Stanford would be a team that could really challenge for a national championship," said Head Coach Kristen Smyth.
The Super Six took place in the energized environment of the University of Georgia, with Bulldog fans representing over 90% of the attendees at the event. Not only was the host an SEC program, but three other SEC schools joined Georgia in the Super Six.
"We had a great draw in the first session where we met some high caliber competition. We started out with a great floor rotation the first day, and realized after floor we would have to earn everything. It took a team effort top to bottom, to qualify to the Super Six. After a strong vault and bar rotation, the beam team brought it home in a tight meet. It was exciting to be in the session with Georgia and lots of enthusiastic fans, and rewarding to compete with such poise and confidence," said Smyth.
The team edged out UCLA, Michigan and Denver in the Preliminary Round of the NCAA Championships, finishing third on the first day, one tenth of a point behind eventual runner-up Utah. The Cardinal had arrived and belonged amongst the nation's elite in 2008.
"To get back to the Super Six and beat some talented teams along the way made a strong statement", said Smyth. "Our session was very competitive with lots of traditional powerhouse programs and for us to get through was a real testament to the work our student-athletes, the coaches, and alumni have put into this program. Our main goal was to stay focused as a team and, of course, to have fun. I think that really helped us power through a challenging meet."
Stanford started off strong on bars in the Super Six competition followed by an equally impressive beam rotation. After the two events Stanford was in second place behind Georgia. The floor and vault team followed with solid performances and the team finished the night in third place behind Utah.
The weekend was filled with many inspirational performances, most notably by junior Heather Purnell in the Super Six competition. The Ontario, Canada native entered the lineup on beam, after missing more than a month of action, and put forth a 9.850 performance.
"Heather Purnell really stepped up and gave us one of the best performances of the season. It was inspiring to see her compete in the anchor spot with intense pressure and hit the routine of her life", said Smyth.
Regular Season Review
Expectations were high as the entire team returned from a successful 2007 campaign and three highly-touted freshmen entered the fold, further increasing the potential of the 2008 team. To be the best you have to beat the best and that objective was demonstrated strikingly in the season-opener against three-time defending champion Georgia. The champs came to the Farm and came away with a win, but the highly-contested meet demonstrated that this group was ready to challenge all takers. With senior leaders Tabitha Yim and Liz Tricase both limited for the meet, the outcome demonstrated the kind of potential this team would have when they were fully healthy.
The Cardinal returned to competition the following week and defeated Pac-10 rival Arizona, but a team score of 194.600 proved that there was still lots of work ahead to achieve their objectives. The first road trip of the season ensued and a heartbreaking 195.050-195.025 loss to UCLA sent the Cardinal to an under .500 record, causing the team to regroup in the early going.
A trip to Ames, IA. to take on the Cyclones proved to be fruitful for the Cardinal, who came away with the win by almost two full points. This meet got the Cardinal back on the winning track and riding high into their last of four road meets in a travel-heavy month of February. Pac-10 rival Oregon State greeted the Cardinal in Corvallis and was able to squeak out a win, by three-tenths of a point. This proved to be the turning point in a season as the team skyrocketed after this close decision.
The Cardinal returned home for the "Big Flip" and re-established themselves with a dominating four-point victory over the Golden Bears. Their 197.375 team score was the highest score of the season for Stanford and started a run that saw the Cardinal win three quad-meets in a row as well as the Pac-10 championship.
The first of these victories was in Tempe, recording a 195.800 team score and defeating the host Sun Devils, as well as the Spartans of San Jose State and UW-Oshkosh. Their run persisted when the Cardinal came home for senior night and defeated No. 6 Alabama as well as No. 16 Nebraska. Stanford continued to improve and finished with a 196.775 team score and two victories over Top 20 opposition.
After another 197.000 score earned in Davis, the Cardinal headed to the Pac-10 Championships, where they had finished in second place in 2007. In another dominating performance, Stanford handled a strong field to capture their third conference title in the past five seasons. The team also earned some notable conference awards: three Pac-10 individual champions, four Pac-10 All-Conference awards, a conference-leading seven gymnasts on the All-Academic team and three Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week awards.
At the Central Regional in Baton Rouge, LA. the team also faced an enthusiastic SEC crowd. The Cardinal nearly won the regional and produced a season-high score of 197.525, which qualified them as the fourth-seeded team into the national championships.
The 2008 season has been defined by the four staples of what Stanford women's gymnastics has become: leadership, consistency, team chemistry and depth. The leadership of the six Cardinal seniors this season has been unparalleled. Tabitha Yim was named Pac-10 Gymnast of the Year, becoming the first gymnast in the history of the program to receive the award. Liz Tricase came back from injury and gave the Cardinal big returns on the bars and vault competitions. Alex Pintchouk performed admirably in all four events throughout the season and filled in wherever she was needed. Lauren Elmore excelled on beam and floor. Aimee Precourt and Stephanie Gentry continued to be huge presences and their leadership was invaluable as the season progressed.
While the team loses the contributions of an outstanding senior class, the groundwork has been laid for a program that will consistently be on the national radar and will be competing for the national championship year in and year out. A highly-rated freshman class will join an already talented squad that will try to make it a "Super Six" three-peat next season at the Super Six in Lincoln, Neb.
"Our seniors have really put us back on the map and have set the stage for the incoming freshman class and our ability to compete at the highest level every season", said Smyth. "I can't put into words how much their contributions have meant to this program and to me."
The Cardinal women's gymnastics team celebrated a season of success on Friday, May 30 with the team's annual awards banquet. The Cardinal recognized numerous gymnasts with individual awards and bid farewell to seniors Tabitha Yim, Liz Tricase, Lauren Elmore, Aimee Precourt, Alex Pintchouk, and Stephanie Gentry.
The night began with the presentation of the academic award, which went to senior Aimee Precourt, who graduated with a 4.00 GPA and a degree in Human Biology.
The next award went to Tenaya West, who earned the team's Most Improved Award after coming up with a big season on floor. West recorded a season-high of 9.900 in the meet against UC Davis and had six scores of 9.800 or higher throughout the season. This included scores of 9.875 at the 2008 Pac-10 Championships and a 9.850 at the Central Regional in Baton Rouge, LA. West came up with her best scores at the most important meets of the season, with five of her best scores coming in her final six meets.
The evening continued with redshirt freshman Allyse Ishino earning the Most Inspirational Award after a big season following her return from a pulmonary embolism that sidelined her for the entire 2007 season. While an injury in the Pac-10 Championships prevented her from competing at the Central Regional and NCAA Nationals, her contributions put the team in a position to qualify for the "Super Six". She scored a season-high of 9.900 on vault and bars as well as a top score of 9.875 on beam in the meet against at Iowa State.
Tabitha Yim added to her accolades this season when she was named team MVP after leading the Cardinal in 2008 and being named Pac-10 Gymnast of the Year. Yim was instrumental in Stanford's success by setting three career-highs in her senior season on the Farm. She scored a 9.950 on vault and 9.950 on beam, both at the Central Regional. The Central Regional also provided Yim with an all-around score of 39.725, which propelled the Cardinal to a berth in the NCAA Championships. Yim also won three All-American honors, which brought to 14 the number of such honors received during her distinguished Stanford career. Yim also won the Conference Award at the Block S Banquet.
Senior Liz Tricase also picked up a couple of awards in the end-of-the year banquet as she was named Cardinal Gymnast of the Year and received the Pam Straitham Award for the best competitive attitude. Tricase specialized this season on vault and bars and never scored below 9.850 in 17 routines. She was also an All-American on bars, her second such All-American honor.