Sunday afternoon was an emotional time for the members of the Stanford women’s gymnastics team, as they competed at home for the final time this season and celebrated five seniors who are nearing the ends of their collegiate gymnastics careers. Though head coach Kristen Smyth used to introduce her graduating class on Senior Day with a hand-held microphone, she knew that this year, emotions would make the speeches difficult to get through. So before this weekend’s quad meet victory, in which Stanford (11-2) scored 196.525 points to beat North Carolina (192.975), Eastern Michigan (190.125) and California (188.825), Smyth used taped presentations to honor the seniors. Nonetheless, the emotions were still strong, and tears remained a part of the tradition.
The team’s seniors are Stephanie Carter, Allyse Ishino, Carly Janiga, Blair Ryland and Tenaya West, each of whom played a key role in the meet in true Senior Day fashion.
Ishino earned her first collegiate all-around victory with a score of 39.450, winning the uneven bars (9.875) and balance beam (9.825) in addition to setting a personal best of 9.875 on the floor. The 2004 United States Olympic Team alternate has been an inspiration to her teammates during her time at Stanford, as she has bounced back from multiple injuries to put together a stellar 2010 season. Ishino missed her entire freshman year because of a pulmonary embolism, and torn ligaments in her knee kept her out of competition for most of last season. But after overcoming these difficulties, this year she has helped provide the Cardinal with a deeper lineup and greater possibilities, especially on the floor.
“She’s really put it all together,” Smyth said. “Just having her on all four events is a real blessing, and to do so as well as she has is phenomenal. She has battled back time and time again.”
Ryland, a late replacement for junior Shelley Alexander in the floor exercise, scored a 9.875 to match her collegiate career best and tie for third with classmate West, who also scored a season high. The senior switched her tumbling passes so that her one-and-a-half front layout was her middle pass, and she finished with a double pike dismount.
“We’ve been preparing for that all year and she really rose to the occasion,” Smyth said. “Doing a double pike at the end takes a little bit more endurance, and she was ready to reveal that tonight.”
Stanford’s floor exercise as a whole was impressive, and the team scored at least 9.875 for each countable routine, achieving a meet-high score of 49.475. The Cardinal struggled a bit on the beam, however, which has consistently been the team’s most difficult event.
“We’re getting a little closer,” said Smyth. “What we’re doing in meets hasn’t been what we’ve been doing in practice. Once they put all four events together, I don’t see anyone stopping this team. But we haven’t done it yet.”
Finally, Senior Day honored Carter, an individual who has been unable to compete since her freshman year because of an elbow injury. Yet, she has remained a vital part of the Stanford gymnastics program, offering support to her teammates and serving in the role of an extra coach. Smyth became particularly emotional while introducing Carter to the crowd in Maples Pavilion.
“She’s so connected with each individual on the team,” Smyth said. “She knows exactly what to say to them to bring out the best in them. She’s the one who’s always there for her teammates, whether they’re sick or injured. Any time day or night, they go call her. She’s really the anchor, the glue that holds the team together.”
And she will continue to prove her character for the final portion of the season, as Stanford now heads to nearby San Jose State to compete in a tri-meet with the Spartans (7-8) and rival California (0-9) once again. The Card has already handily defeated both teams previously this year, edging San Jose State 196.650-192.800 in early February and California 196.525-188.825 last weekend. Thus, the meet is likely to provide an opportunity for Stanford to focus on improving its own abilities as postseason competition nears.
Events begin at 7:00 p.m. on Friday night.