After months of anticipation and preparation, the time has finally arrived for the Stanford women’s gymnastics team to compete in the NCAA Championships. This weekend, the Cardinal gymnasts will head to Gainesville, Fla., hoping to appear in the Super Six Finals and produce the twenty-four solid routines they have been waiting for.
No. 6 Stanford (19-3) returns to the NCAA Championships for the fourth consecutive season and the eighth time in the past 10 years. The meet will take place today through Saturday, and it will begin with the team preliminaries. Each of today’s preliminaries is broken up into groups of six, with the top three teams in each advancing to Friday’s Super Six Finals, which determine the national team champion. The Cardinal has reached the Super Six a total of four times, finishing a school-best third place on two occasions.
Following its regional success on April 10, in which Stanford collected its fifth regional championship and scored 196.775, the team looks to surpass its already established season-high scores. If the competition was any indicator of how well Stanford will compete in the upcoming championships, junior captain Shelley Alexander will be a primary contributor to the team’s efforts.
At the regional, Alexander won two events, the vault and the balance beam, with scores of 9.95 and 9.90 respectively. It marked the first time in her collegiate career that she has won multiple events in the same meet. She set personal career bests on the vault and in the all-around (39.500), placing third overall in the latter. Last year, Alexander missed first-team All-American recognition, as well as qualification for the Individual Event finals, by only one place on the vault.
She and senior captain Allyse Ishino are expected to be this year’s top All-America contenders. Ishino was the 2009 NCAA Regional Champion on the uneven bars, and is having the best season of her collegiate career. Though she missed her entire freshman year and the postseason of her sophomore year because of illness and injury, she is now fully healthy and will be one of the team’s main contributors to the floor and the all-around.
Senior captain Carly Janiga and senior Blair Ryland are the team’s two returning All-Americans. Janiga has received the All-America honor six times, with four first-team selections, and she enters this year’s NCAA meet as one of only three returning second-place finishers from 2009. Ryland earned second-team All-America honors in 2007 as a freshman and will take a vital leadership role on the vault this weekend.
Collectively, the squad will take on five other top-12 teams in Thursday’s preliminaries—No. 2 Florida (the event’s host), No. 3 Alabama, No. 7 Arkansas, No. 10 Missouri and No. 11 Michigan. Though Stanford defeated Michigan in the Southeast Regional, 196.775-195.800, the team has not faced any of the others in its preliminary group so far this season. If the Card is to advance to the Super Six, it will have to take one of the top three slots, and could later potentially face No. 1 UCLA for the fourth time this season. Stanford handily defeated the Bruins twice in dual meets earlier this year but fell short, 197.350-196.775, at the Pac-10 Championships in Tucson, Ariz. a few weeks ago.
Links to live stats and live streaming video for the NCAA Championships can be found on the NCAA’s website. Stanford’s evening session begins today at 4 p.m.