By Jeremy Rubin
After a season-opening performance filled with positives, No. 22 Stanford’s women’s gymnastics will face UC Davis, No. 9 California, San Jose State and Sacramento State in the NorCal Classic on Sunday.
At the Collegiate Challenge on Jan. 4, the women’s team finished in fourth with a score of 195.475. Junior Kyla Bryant hit the ground running to start her season, posting a career-high mark of 9.950 on bars and a robust 9.900 on floors. A 2018 Pac-12 All-Academic Honoree, Bryant picked up right where she left off in 2019.
Freshman Chloe Widner, Stanford’s only all-around competitor at the meet, excelled in her debut for the Cardinal, scoring a 9.800 or higher on all four of her events. Widner finished sixth in the all-around with a score of 39.325 and was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week.
The team looks to build upon its accomplishments from last year, which included a top-25 ranking and across-the-board improvements, and sustain success from the entire team during head coach Tabitha Yim’s second season at the helm.
One year ago at the NorCal Classic, Bryant and senior Kaylee Cole led the way to an eventual Stanford victory, as Bryant finished with at least a share of first place in every event, and Cole placed in the top-five twice. This win ignited some early-season momentum for the Cardinal, and the team went on to win the Sacramento Tri-Meet five days later. With a strong freshman class highlighted by Widner, Stanford looks to repeat the results of a year ago.
Less than 70 miles away, following a magical run which culminated in the sixth NCAA championship for the program, the No. 1 men’s gymnastics team will travel to Berkeley to kick off its season against No. 11 Cal in the Cal Benefit Cup.
Last year, facing long odds in 2019 NCAA championship against Oklahoma, Stanford fought back from as many as four points down to eventually take the lead in the final rotation and secure a 415.222 to 414.556 victory.
Sophomore Brody Malone was a standout contributor during that championship meet, finishing with a career-high 85.832 en route to becoming just the third freshman in NCAA history to win the all-around title. He finished with five of Stanford’s 15 total All-American honors.
Although the team graduated some key pieces from last year’s championship run, seven All-Americans returned to the Farm to defend the title this year. In addition to Malone, the impressive group includes seniors Bailey Perez and David Jessen; juniors Andrew Bitner, Blake Sun and Bryan Perla and sophomore Ian Gunther.
Entering the 2020 season with a plethora of top-notch talent up and down the roster, and with 2019 National Coach of the Year Thom Glielmi leading the charge, the Cardinal enter the 2020 season with high expectations.
Stanford opens up against a strong Cal team eager to knock off the defending champions. Despite graduating multiple notable players after last season’s sixth-place finish in the qualifying round of the NCAA championships, the Golden Bears retained many top talents including sophomore Darren Wong. Wong made it to the 2019 NCAA All-Around finals and consistently produced new personal bests in a variety of events as the season wore on. He and the rest of Cal’s team will look to change their recent fortunes against the Cardinal — Stanford has won the previous 11 meets.
Both meets take place this weekend. The men’s gymnastics season-opener is set for 7:00 p.m. on Saturday at Berkeley, while the women’s team is competing on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. in Davis, CA.