For the sixth time in seven years, the Stanford women’s gymnastics team is going to the NCAA National Championships. In order to earn the spot, the Cardinal had to finish in the top two out of six teams at the Norman Regional Championships at the University of Oklahoma on Saturday.
Oklahoma, the second-ranked team in the country, advanced by winning the regional competition with a score of 197.375, while Stanford finished in second with a team score of 196.800. It beat out No. 22 Washington (195.925), No. 14 Penn State (195.875), Southern Utah (194.850) and Iowa (194.475). While the final score shows Stanford qualifying by nearly a full point, it was not until a nearly flawless final round that Stanford punched its ticket to the NCAA Championships.
Stanford started the meet on bars, where it posted a score of 48.975. The team was led by sophomore Kristina Vaculik, who posted a 9.850 to earn a tie for eighth place overall. She was supported by senior Ashley Morgan and junior Shona Morgan, each of whom scored a 9.800. Ashley has scored at least a 9.800 on bars in every competition this season, while Shona is almost as impressive, scoring a 9.800 in all but two.
Throughout the season, the beam has been Stanford’s most consistent event. Saturday’s meet was nothing different, as Stanford put together a 49.225 to move closer to the national championship.
Sophomore Ivana Hong, who shined in her second regional competition for Stanford, led the Cardinal with a score of 9.900. Hong tied for first place, giving her her fourth first-place finish in the event and Stanford its eighth overall. Shona Morgan was not far behind her, scoring a 9.875 to finish third overall. Vaculik came up big once again, scoring a 9.825 that Stanford desperately needed after a missed routine in order to stay in the hunt for the top two spots. Stanford’s 49.225 was its second-best team score on the beam this season, true to the Cardinal’s mantra of saving its best for last.
Going to floor exercises, Ashley Morgan showed everyone why she is a three-time Pac-12 floor champion. Morgan posted a 9.900 to earn her a tie for first-place overall, her fourth first-place finish on the floor this the season. Freshman Taylor Rice and sophomore Sam Shapiro were just behind their senior captain, each tying their career highs with a score of 9.875 to pace Stanford to a team score of 49.175. Shapiro, normally known for her bars routines—finished second at last year’s NCAA Championships—felt good contributing in the best way she could.
“Particularly on floor, I knew that the team needed me in that moment,” she said, “and it felt so good to be able to hit my routine for them.”
However, despite three solid team events to start out, Stanford found itself just 0.125 points ahead of third-place Penn State and need a strong round on vault to solidify its second-place finish. Not only did the Cardinal deliver a good round, it posted a season-high score of 49.425 to guarantee its spot in the National Championships.
Hong led the way once again for the Cardinal, putting together a season-best 9.950 to earn her second individual title of the day and the highest individual score of the meet. While Hong was impressed with her individual accomplishments, she knew what mattered most coming from this weekend. “
“Winning the individual titles on vault and beam was awesome, but the team’s success is what matters the most, and I’m so proud of how much fight our team showed this last weekend,” Hong said.
Last year at the national championships, Stanford earned an impressive fourth-place finish. The team hopes to achieve such an accomplishment once again, or even better.
The championship consists of 12 teams: Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, LSU, UCLA, Michigan, Minnesota, Utah, Arkansas, Illinois and Stanford. The championships will be held at UCLA from April 19-21, where after the first day six of the 12 teams are eliminated from the field.
While the team has a big challenge ahead of it, Shapiro thinks the Cardinal has what it takes to make a statement on the biggest stage.
“As a team, we feel extremely confident going into Nationals,” she said. “We have worked so hard and have overcome so much together that this is just the icing on the cake!”
Contact Connor Scherer at cscherer “at” stanford.edu.