Bruins Snag 2009 Pac-10 Championship

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March 21, 2009

Stanford, Calif. - UCLA's new guard is doing a great job of maintaining the excellence started by the program's old guard.

Propelled by their outstanding youngsters, the Bruins edged Oregon State and defending-champion Stanford at the Pac-10 Women's Gymnastics Championships on Saturday to clinch the program's 14th conference title.

'I don't think we've ever had a team this young,' said UCLA's 19th-year head coach Valorie Kondos Field, who has been with the program for 27 years. 'Bruins are baby bears, and we're cubs. They're growing up before our eyes, and it's fun.'

Despite only recording the highest team score in one event, the balance beam, No. 7 UCLA avoided any poor showings to win at 196.725 in front of 3,035 at Stanford's Maples Pavilion. Runner-up Oregon State (196.550) and third-place Stanford (196.525) were victimized at the balance beam and the floor exercise, respectively.

Stanford junior Carly Janiga earned her first Pac-10 all-around championship at 39.575. The four-time All-American also won the balance beam (9.95) and finished in a five-way tie for the uneven bars' title at 9.9.

'It's always about the team,' said the 4-foot-11 Janiga, noting the bittersweet emotions as No. 3 Stanford fell short of winning its third conference title in four years. 'I'd take the team winning Pac-10's ten times over winning the all-around.'

Janiga, who called her 'relaxed' routine on the balance beam the key, gave Stanford its first back-to-back all-around champions. Two-time winner Tabitha Yim took the 2008 crown.

'She's always someone I looked up to,' Janiga said.

No. 10 Oregon State's Mandi Rodriguez, named the Pac-10 Gymnast of the Year in the coaches' vote prior to Saturday's meet, finished second in the all-around at 39.5. The 5-7 junior won the vault (9.95) and finished tied with Stanford's Nicole Ourada for the floor title at 9.9.

A pair of newcomers helped UCLA round out the top five in the all-around. Freshmen Vanessa Zamarripa (39.4) and Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (39.175) finished third and fifth, respectively, sandwiched around Bruins senior Ariana Berlin, who took fourth at 39.35.

UCLA junior Anna Li made the most of her only event, the uneven bars, to earn a share of her team's lone individual title. She joined Oregon State's Jen Kesler and Leslie Mak, and Stanford's Janiga and Ourada in the rare five-way championship.

Stanford's Kristen Smyth was selected Pac-10 Coach of the Year by her peers, her fourth such honor. UCLA's Hopfner-Hibbs earned the conference's Freshman of the Year honors.

At the outset, Stanford appeared to be in good position to earn back-to-back team titles for the first time. The Cardinal opened with a season-best 49.350 in the vault and followed topping its Regional Qualifying Score in the uneven bars by posting a 49.275.

But Stanford's slide began with a 49.125 in the balance beam, and then the Cardinal had to count one of two falls in the floor exercise to post a 48.775.

'Two youngsters missed, and at this level you can't have a miss,' said Smyth, the eighth-year head coach. 'It's not going to work at this level.'

'We know where we opened up the door for other teams to win,' added Janiga, who hoped the meet served as a valuable learning experience for the NCAA Regionals on April 4, whose field will be announced Monday. 'The good thing was it didn't happen at regionals. Now we have two weeks to make sure that never happens again.'

Meanwhile, Oregon State's woes happened early, as the Beavers began with a rocky 48.725 at the balance beam.

Rodriguez preferred to focus on Oregon State's strong finish, which included tying Stanford for the top team score in the uneven bars as anchors Kesler and Mak delivered in the Beavers' final event.

'That's only going to help our confidence from here,' Rodriguez said. 'We could've been rattled, but I think we showed what fighters we are.'

Steady UCLA saved its best for last. On the balance beam, the Bruins finished a season-best 49.325, with freshmen competing in the final three slots.

First, Zamarripa - 'probably the most talented athlete we've ever had,' according to Kondos Field - and Hopfner-Hibbs each posted a 9.9. Then Aisha Gerber, 'our anchor on the balance beam,' distanced herself from a tough start to the meet by recording a 9.825 as UCLA wrapped up its first Pac-10 title since 2007.

'Beam has not always been our friend this season,' said Kondos Field, adding that a freshman or sophomore competed in 19 of the Bruins' 24 slots. 'To be able to finish on beam, to get our highest score ... to be able to win this conference championship on beam is huge.'

Only three programs have won the Pac-10 title. Stanford has five championships. Oregon State has four, none since 1996.

In the team competition, Washington finished fourth at 194.375, just ahead of No. 19 Arizona (194.325). Arizona State (194.000) and Cal (191.750) rounded out the field.

Arizona State's Beate Jones finished seventh in the all-around at 38.925. Washington's Amanda Cline (38.825) tied for eighth.

Sophia Hocini led Cal by taking 12th in the all-around at 38.65. Arizona's Colleen Fisher (38.475) was 13th.

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