Working for the Weekend

April 16, 2009

LINCOLN, Neb. - The work is done and the training is complete for the Stanford women's gymnastics team. On the eve of the NCAA Championships, coach Kristen Smyth said, 'it's time to let the work shine through.'

As Stanford's gymnasts embark on their final adventure together of the season - beginning with the team preliminaries Thursday (11 a.m. PDT) at the Devaney Center - they do so with the understanding that it's time to stop thinking and let instinct take hold.

Stanford's training cycle pushed the team through the Pacific-10 Conference meet on March 21 with heavy legs and a sense of mental and physical exhaustion after perhaps its hardest week of combined gymnastics work and conditioning.

Though the workload, which happened to take place during finals week, may have cost the team in the short term (the Cardinal finished third), it was planned to benefit the team in the long term, with the aim of peaking for this weekend.

'This group has stayed true to the training cycle,' said Smyth, meaning that the team hasn't been sidetracked by injuries and has taken full advantage of the way the workouts build on each other to be most beneficial at the end of the season. 'They look lean, quick, strong, fit. Effortless.

'They look fantastic. They're going to be amazing.'

If Stanford finishes among the top three in its six-team afternoon session, the Cardinal will qualify for Friday's Super Six national finals for the third consecutive year.

In addition, junior Carly Janiga and Nicole Ourada will lead Stanford in the all-around, which will be determined Thursday as well.

'By nationals, through all the repetition, all the preparation, your body knows what it's doing,' Janiga said. 'You have to let your body do what it has to do. And that's really hard.'

By doing so, a gymnast has to trust herself. That means letting go and let muscle memory take over.

'We feel like gymnastics is easier,' junior Blair Ryland said. 'We're at the point, where we can focus more on our technique and having fun with gymnastics instead of actually just trying to get through it.'

Smyth said that initially in the tapering period, the gymnasts didn't feel much of a change as they eased up on the workouts in advance of regionals two weeks ago.

'They didn't see much of a difference at first,' Smyth said. 'But as coaches, we see them jumping higher, being able to move more quickly out of some of their skills. By the time they get to nationals, they look fresh and light and strong and quick.'

For freshman Catherine Nguyen, this is a new experience. In her club background, the tapering was not as severe and the season was not geared year-round to one competition.

'Back in club, we didn't do the whole tapering kind of thing,' Nguyen said. 'It was the same thing, day after day. We never really got a break until the season was actually over. It was really hard, but this makes a big difference.'

No two weeks of training have been alike for Stanford, so the monotony has been largely absent. Ever conscious of trying to keep her athletes as healthy as possible, Smyth avoided hard work upon hard work. That doesn't mean training was easy, but it had a purpose.

'The training week before Pac-10s was pretty difficult,' Ryland said. 'You were exhausted mentally and physically. They just threw everything at us. And we survived. Getting through that, it makes me feel like I can do anything.'

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