Women's Gymnastics Season Review
June 8, 2007
Stanford, CA -
The No. 5 women's gymnastics team had a historic 2007 season that included the first undefeated Pac-10 season in school history and the second highest finish at NCAA Championships in school history. The entire team, representing 13 All Americans from 2007 and the most decorated Card female gymnast in history, Tabitha Yim, returns for the 2008 season. This season review release includes a narrative review of the season and final statistics.
Stanford, CA - The 2007 Stanford Women's Gymnastics team (SWG) returned to campus in the Fall ready to defend their Pac-10 title and redeem themselves. A disappointing third place finish at the 2006 NCAA Regional left them with an early end to an otherwise memorable season that included a Pac-10 title for the second time in the last three years. The conference 2006 title was fueled by the first place efforts of current juniors Tabitha Yim in the All-Around and Beam, and Liz Tricase on Bars.
Leadership, consistency, team chemistry, and depth have been the cornerstones to success for the 2007 Card squad. After a rough start at the season opener in Georgia, Stanford won the next six in a row and closed out the regular season 16-3, a feat that included Stanford's first undefeated Pac-10 season in school history. The team faced challenges early on in the season with injuries to key players but they rebounded in impressive fashion. Depth (something SWG has not had in the past) and great team effort drove solid wins week after week. Their consistency and blue collar work ethic have placed them among the upper echelon of teams for the majority of 2007, ranking no lower than 5th nationally since the third week of the season.
Although contributions came from the entire team this season, the engine of this squad remains the six juniors who have had a journey filled with peaks and valleys at Stanford. Stephanie Gentry, Alex Pintchouk, Aimee Precourt, and Lauren Elmore all had career seasons and have provided both consistency and difficulty, particularly when Yim and Tricase were not available. When asked about what makes this year's team unique and how the juniors have grown from their experience, Elmore said, 'We've learned a lot and a lot about why we do gymnastics. We've found the vision of what gymnastics is supposed to be and we do it because we want to and because it's fun, not because it's a job or because it's expected of us. Our experience means a lot more because we've had to really work to create something new and we've had to do it in the most demanding environment there is academically.'
The 2007 regular season started with the team missing one of their key freshmen, 2004 Olympian Allyse Ishino, who had to sit the entire year after a pulmonary embolism in late November. There have been a few other injury challenges along the way as Tricase and Yim both battled nagging soft-tissue issues, but the season followed very closely to the script Head Coach Kristen Smyth laid out at the beginning of the year. SWG moved through a very difficult schedule that included perennial national champions Georgia and UCLA in the first two weekends. Though the opener against the defending national champions did not go exactly as planned, the Card came back strong when they visited LA one week later and soundly defeated the Bruins on their home turf. Two more nearly flawless meets followed as SWG put together a string of 23 or 24 out of 24 routines to start the year with the kind of consistency that Smyth wants to become a hallmark of Stanford gymnastics. Challenge soon followed, however, when it became apparent the team would have to rest both Tricase (shoulder) and Yim (wrist, toe) to let nagging injuries heal. For a team that had difficulty fielding a full competitive squad two seasons ago when the injury bug bit, the necessity to field test their depth loomed both as a significant hurdle and a crucial right of passage en route to true national prominence. The next four weeks involved three road trips of some distance and only one home meet, but the team came together in impressive fashion with dominating performances against Pac-10 rivals Washington, Cal-Berekeley, and Arizona that showcased future Cardinal youth. Freshman Carly Janiga and Sophomore Nicole Ourada both earned Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week awards for 39.5+ All Around efforts and freshmen Blair Ryland and Stephanie Carter began to make critical contributions to fill the glaring holes in the lineup left by the absent all-stars. Elmore missed virtually all of the 2006 season but re-emerged as a 'sure thing' threat on bars, beam and floor to provide some veteran leadership. Pintchouk also gave notice that this would be the best year of her collegiate career as she put together some impressive All Around and career best meets. After comfortably handling Oregon State and 2006 Super Six competitor Iowa State in the comparative warmth of Maples Pavilion, the Card headed to the endless plains of Nebraska, where the team was stranded in a blizzard that exposed some of SWG to serious snow for the first time in their lives. The travel challenges appeared to shake the young squad a bit and they were not quite on top of their game, giving the Huskers the opportunity to score an upset by six tenths. The next four weeks included only two competitions, both at home, and both critical to laying some confidence on the team's mental foundation prior to the post-season. Oklahoma came to visit after defeating the Huskers in Lincoln, but the Big 12 found no love in Pac-10 territory and the Sooners fell victim to a surging Card team eager to prove that the Nebraska experience was merely a small bump in their journey to NCAA Nationals. The biggest test, however, followed two weeks later when UCLA visited the Farm, hoping to gain revenge for three consecutive losses to Stanford, including two at Pauley Pavilion. The meet saw the return to the lineup in limited action for Yim, whose presence clearly lends to SWG's energy and intensity. The Card finished the weekend with their undefeated streak intact after a strong showing that still left a great deal of room for improvement and polish before crunch time. The privilege of hosting the 2007 Pac-10 Championships belonged to Arizona State University and Stanford headed to Tempe with the comfort of regaining the services of Tricase and Yim. Oregon State was having a strong second half to their season and both Arizona State and Arizona have shown the ability to score well at various points in the season, which meant a seven team competition that would belong to the team that hit. Unfortunately for the Card, UCLA became the big hitter of the night, having their best night of the season without a single miss. SWG suffered falls from key competitors on both uneven bars and beam that did not count towards the team score, but they gave away enough tenths on landings and execution that they were unable to overtake the Bruins' best effort of the year. Significant individual highlights and awards included Coach of the Year for Smyth, Freshman of the Year for Janiga, and Conference Uneven Bar Champion for Tricase (a second consecutive win for the junior on the strength of an impressive routine after a two month absence from competition). The team score was sufficient to move the Card up in the national rankings to the #4 spot, one higher than they'd been the last two weeks of the season and one notch below the #3 spot they held for the majority of the year. The end result of that ranking was a #1 seed at the NCAA South Central Regional Championship. That meet turned out to be largely a Pac-10 rematch, with SWG facing off against Oregon State (#2 seed), Arizona (#3) and in-region competitors Arizona State, Illinois, and Illinois-Chicago. The top two teams from each regional would advance to NCAA National Championships and Stanford made a strong case for their national ranking with their third Regional Championship in school history. Assistant Coach Chris Swircek was honored with the West Region Assistant Coach of the Year Award and two Card gymnasts came away with additional Champion titles to add to their resumes: Yim won her third straight regional All Around title with a 39.475 and another uneven bar title with a 9.9. Tricase won the vault with an impressive 9.9 after a long layoff. Stanford's team score of 196.6 set them up as one of the top teams in the evening session for team prelminary competition at NCAA Nationals. Though none of the current SWG team members have competed at NCAA Nationals as part of a team, Yim has participated in the last two as an individual and Smyth has had great success in the team competition in her career. That experience became a key advantage for a Card squad that showed no signs of inexperience in front of nearly 10,000 fans in the University of Utah's Huntsman Center. Stanford's 197.2 was good enough for second place, just .125 behind host Utah, and plenty to send them to their third Super Six appearance in the last six years. There were abundant individual honors, including 13 All American awards. SWG moved on to the team finals against Utah and UCLA (from the evening session) and the top three teams from the earlier session (Georgia, Florida, and Nebraska).SWG's primary goal on the evening was to hit 24 of 24 routines and the young team delivered in style. The floor team had a few nervous moments, but Janiga and Yim both earned a spot in Saturday's event finals competition (first team All Americans all qualify to the individual event finals). Vault turned into one of the major highlights of the night as SWG hit at a level they've been striving for all season. Tricase tied for first with a 9.95 and Janiga's 9.925 also earned first team All American status, while Ryland led off with a career high 9.9 that gave her second team All American status. Ourada matched Ryland's effort and gained her first All American title.Bars was very solid and Stanford had the second best team score of the evening session, but Yim was the lone All American with second team honors thanks to her 9.9, which included her huge trademark Geinger and a big full twisting double tuck for the first time this season. Stanford moved to beam in the final rotation and was battling Utah for the number one spot, but the competition was tight enough at that point that the team needed to hit in order to assure their place in the Super Six. SWG proceeded to turn in one of the best team beam efforts of the competition, including first team All American performances of 9.9 for sophomore Kelly Fee, Ourada, and Yim, and second team status for Janiga.Janiga and Yim both also earned first team All American in the All Around, with second place (39.5) and fourth place (39.45), respectively, while Ourada made second team with her 39.35. SWG made history at the NCAA National Championships team finals the next night, becoming the only team at the event to hit all 24 routines each night of competition. SWG turned in a very strong performance for a 196.825 that gave the team a fifth place finish overall. Defending national champion Georgia ran away with the meet, winning their third team title in a row with a remarkable 197.85. Host Utah took second with a 197.25, followed closely by Florida at 197.225 and UCLA at 196.925. Nebraska finished in sixth place with a 195.975. The four tenth spread between the second and fifth place teams makes the 2007 Nationals one of the most tightly contested in history. The Card had a great draw, starting on vault and following Olympic order through the six rotations, and began the night with a solid effort that wasn't quite as strong as the previous night. All six vaulters hit and it was still one of the team's best vault performances of the season, but the rotation score of 49.225 ended up putting the team in a bit of a hole behind the front runners. The biggest vaults came from Yim and Pintchouk, with a 9.9 and 9.875 respectively.Following a bye SWG moved to bars, looking to make up some ground and improve on the team's prelim results on what has been Stanford's best event throughout the 2007 season. Fee led off with a super clean set and the next five Card competitors all hit, but tight scoring through the whole evening meant the team maxed with 9.85s from Yim and fellow Junior co-Captain Liz Tricase. The team total of 49.1 was enough to put Stanford in a strong position at the half, nearly a tenth ahead of UCLA and nipping at the heels of Florida and Georgia. An impressive finish on beam in team prelims was key to SWG's qualifying to the finals and they moved to the event confident of their ability to make up some ground against the leaders. Elmore led off with a nice set for a 9.8 and the next four in the lineup bettered that mark with a string of routines highlighted by Yim's 9.9 and Fee's 9.875, matching the great effort that earned both gymnasts First Team All American honors in team prelims. The Card finished with a 49.25 that was the third highest team total of the evening and it put the team well into the mix of the leaders going into their last event. Stanford started on floor with a few small nervous errors on Thursday night and the team faced the challenge this night of ending on this event, the one that requires the most endurance and can be most impacted by altitude. SWG impressed the entire arena with a performance that was stronger than prelims and showed no sign of fatigue. Elmore added a full twisting double back in her first pass for the first time this season and drilled it for an inspirational 9.8 that Fee immediately matched. Janiga closed out a really impressive NCAA Nationals debut with a 9.9 that matched her winning score from Day 1. Ourada and Yim were the other two team members who competed All Around both nights and hit every routine--both turned in fantastic floor routines for matching 9.875s. The tight scoring in the final rotation ended up making a big difference in the finish as the Card slipped just one tenth behind UCLA in the fourth slot. SWG returned to competition for one more day as five Card gymnasts qualified to the individual event finals on Saturday night. The finals format has the top four gymnasts (plus ties) from each session on each event competing for the title of national champion. Tricase and Janiga earned spots on vault; Ourada, Fee, and Yim on beam; and Janiga and Yim on floor. A decent crowd of more than 5,000 people turned out for the showcase of the best athletes on each event. A total of 17 athletes earned spots in vault finals, but Tricase had to scratch from the event due to soreness from team competition and one Nebraska athlete also scratched. In vault finals each athlete is required to perform two different vaults. Janiga stuck her first Yurchenko layout 1/1 for an impressive 9.85, but had to do a simpler layout Yurchenko for her second vault. That vault only has a 9.8 start value but Janiga did it very well and received a 9.65. Sophomore Courtney Kupets from Georgia won the event with two terrific vaults and a 9.9188 average. Thanks to their outstanding team showing on beam in prelims, Yim, Fee and Ourada all made beam finals. Yim led off on the event and earned a solid 9.8375 due to a couple of minor balance checks. Fee led off the second flight of the 15 gymnasts total in the event and it looked like she was on a roll until a wobble on the finish of her flight series that dropped her to a 9.725. Ourada had the distinction of competing in the last spot on the event and turned in a brilliant performance, including an upgraded back handspring with two layouts. She had a very slight check on the landing from her straddle jump, but her 9.85 was good enough for a tie with three other athletes for third place, a remarkable accomplishment for the sophomore who only competed on beam for Stanford seven times this season. Junior Ashley Postell from host Utah was crowned the champion with a 9.9375. Janiga was the first floor competitor of the night and turned in an amazing routine with the best first (Arabian double front) and last (whip to 2 1/2 twists) tumbling passes of her young college career. A big bounce out of her landing on her second pass (double tuck) cost the fabulous freshman but the rest of the routine was special enough to garner a 9.8875 from the judges. Yim was the first competitor in the second flight (there were a historic 18 athletes in floor finals) and captivated the entire arena with dance ability that really sets her apart from almost every other gymnast in the field. Slightly weaker difficulty left her behind some really enormous routines from great tumblers, but Yim tied Janiga's 9.8875 and ended up sharing eighth place with her younger teammate. Freshman Morgan Dennis from Alabama won the floor title with an impressive display of tumbling that included a sky-high double layout, a full twisting double tuck, and a front through to double tuck dismount.