By Jenny Peter
Stanford men’s gymnastics team is currently No. 1 in the preseason polls, and the team will start defending that ranking tonight. The Cardinal will open its competitive season by hosting Bay Area rival No. 5 Cal.
The Cardinal was the NCAA runner-up to Michigan last year and is ready to make another run at the title. The 2011 team returns to the mat tonight hungry for victory after placing second at nationals last year and falling to Cal at the MPSF Championships.
“We are all extremely motivated right now,” said senior co-captain Tim Gentry. “Losing to Michigan really lit a fire under our team, and I can see the focus and intensity in practice. Everybody is committed to the goal of winning NCAAs, and this meet is just the first stepping stone towards that goal.”
The team further prepared itself for this event at the Cardinal and White intrasquad meet last week. At the session, Stanford proved that this year’s team has an even more promising scorecard for success as it approaches its first meet with more depth in the roster, more difficulty in skills, eight All-American returners and a talented freshman class capable of contributing right away.
Challenging each other for the six spots at each event is expected to be a common theme for this year’s team, as there are a lot of veterans and new skill sets from the underclassmen. Freshman Cale Robinson, for example, is pressuring sophomore Eddie Penev for the top floor spot. Freshman Chris Turner is also a viable new contender for pommel horse and parallel bar positions. Other athletes are making comebacks from injuries and adding more difficult skills to their routines.
What matters to the men this early in the season is getting comfortable hammering out routines.
“Now is all about the quantity of training,” Gentry said. “We usually do a lot more numbers during preseason and at the beginning in order to get more comfortable performing our routines. That way, by the end of the season, all we need to work on are small details. Also, we are looking to improve after each competition culminating in a peak at NCAAs.”
“We’re so deep in numbers,” said redshirt sophomore Jordan Nolff. “If you put in our sixth and seventh guys in the lineups, we’re still on top. We fight for lineups this year.”
A new rule was implemented this season to allow a 15-man lineup on the competition floor. This means that up to 15 athletes are allowed to compete instead of only 12 athletes as in the past. The previous 12-man lineup favored those who competed in most of the events to continuously be in the lineup, but now event specialists can expect more competition time. This change adds even more depth to Stanford’s lineups.
Most of the lineups favor the senior class, including redshirt senior Nick Noone, which has proven itself to be the top class in the country. Seniors Ryan Lieberman and Josh Dixon will be debuting skills they invented on the parallel bars that no one else has attempted. In order to have the skill named after them, they must compete at an international meet such as worlds later in the year.
This season is also the last for Cal’s program, as it will be cut for financial reasons after this year. The team placed fifth at NCAAs last year and will come into the meet with an attitude of nothing to lose.
“It’s going to be a tough competition,” said senior co-captain Abhinav Ramani. “Cal is a really good team. They have a bunch of national team members and a fresh coaching staff so they’re really going to be gunning for us. It will be a close but good battle this Friday.”
The Cardinal and the Golden Bears will square off at 7 p.m. in Burnham Pavilion.