Though gymnastics is an individual sport, the Stanford women gymnasts proved this weekend at the NCAA Southeast Regionals in West Virginia that team momentum can be the key to victory. Armed with enthusiasm and team support, the No. 1 seed Cardinal showed three high-scoring rotations to win handily with 196.775 points and advance to the NCAA Championships for the fourth consecutive season.
No. 2 seed Michigan (195.800) also received a berth to the Finals, and the Card and the Wolverines will be two of the 12 teams to compete in Gainesville, Fla. at the NCAA Team Preliminaries.
Stanford came into the meet with both high energy and high expectations. According to sophomore Alexandra Skoly, from the time the team woke up on the morning of competition, the gymnasts all “had a great feeling that today was going to be something special.”
Stanford justified its No. 1 ranking with a strong first rotation: the floor exercise. Senior Tenaya West set the standard high with a solid 9.80, but her teammates rose to the challenge and scored even higher, as fellow seniors Allyse Ishino and Carly Janiga both hit 9.90s.
“Their tumbling was great, their showmanship, their performance quality,” said head coach Kristen Smyth. “One routine built on another.”
Stanford’s floor score of 49.300 was eclipsed one rotation later by the vault, in which the Cardinal gymnasts stuck every single landing. The team scored a 49.400, its second-highest in the event all season. Junior co-captain Shelley Alexander led the way with a 9.95 and won the event, and three of her teammates joined her with 9.90-plus scores.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an event like that before,” Smyth said after Stanford had built a score of 98.700 after the floor and vault. “The first two events were absolutely lights out.”
The bars gained another 49.275 points for the Cardinal but the team’s beam performance kept Stanford from delivering a completely perfect performance. Alexander, however, closed the beam section after a teammate’s fall and hit her second winning routine with a 9.90.
Alexander had a spectacular meet, setting personal collegiate career bests on the vault and in the all-around with a 39.500. In the latter, she placed third overall, between teammates Janiga (39.525) and senior Allyse Ishino (39.350), who placed second and fourth, respectively. Never in Alexander’s collegiate career had she won multiple events in a single meet, but on Saturday she held key positions in the lineup, led off the bars and anchored the vault, beam and floor, despite a recent shoulder injury.
“It was a fantastic effort,” Smyth said. “On the beam, she knew we had a miss and rose to the occasion. She competed in only one event at Pac-10s and I think that fired her up and helped her use that as motivation to go out and prove something to herself.”
Now Stanford heads to nationals for the eighth time in 10 years. In contrast to last season, when the team seemed to dip in confidence during regionals, this year’s Cardinal team is heading in the opposite direction and gaining plenty of momentum.
Despite a late beam fall that prevented Stanford from achieving its primary goal and hitting all 24 routines, the team is confident and ready with all of the right elements to produce the overall performance that has been elusive all season.
“The girls all really believe in themselves and seem to be putting it all together,” Smyth said. “We’ve got great positive energy. We just need to open up and let the great work come out.”