Date with No. 2 Oklahoma looms for Cardinal

March 7, 2013, 10:30 p.m.

For years, Stanford women’s gymnastics has stressed the importance of improvement throughout a season. The Cardinal will have to continue improving as it heads to Norman, Okla., to face the North Carolina Tar Heels and the second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners on Sunday morning.

While it is always nice to start the year strong, it is more significant to steadily develop as the season progresses. The Cardinal (10-3, 5-1 Pac-12) rode this strategy all the way to fourth place in the NCAA Championship last year, and this season has seen more of the same.

“We began the year with the goal of consistently getting better every weekend so we could peak at the right time,” said senior captain Ashley Morgan. “As a senior, I am extremely proud of how far our team has come, and I know we are only going to continue to improve and show our true strength as we conclude our regular season and post season begins.”

Senior Ashley Morgan
Senior Ashley Morgan and the Cardinal look to upset No. 2 Oklahoma in a big Sunday meet. (MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford got out to a very strong 7-1 start through Jan. 26 but still had not scored above 197 points in a meet until it defeated Arizona State 197.275-195.250 on Feb. 15. Since that point, the Card has eclipsed the 197-point mark in both subsequent meets en route to a 10-3 record and the nation’s No. 9 ranking.

The Card’s biggest challenge this Sunday will be keeping up with the Sooners — a feat no team has been able to do yet this season. Oklahoma has dominated its competition, leading to a 16-0 record and multiple weeks atop the national rankings.

Oklahoma is led by senior Brie Olson, who was recently recognized as one of the six finalists for the most outstanding senior gymnast in the country. Oklahoma averages 197.317 points per meet with a season-high 198.375-point performance in a victory over sixth-ranked UCLA.

But perhaps just as impressive as Oklahoma’s season-high score is its scoring consistency. The Sooners haven’t scored below that magic 197-point mark since Jan. 12 at Arizona State. In fact, Stanford’s season-high 197.275 performance would only have tied Oklahoma’s worst performance over the last seven meets.

Factoring in the atmosphere of an always-loud Oklahoma gym, topping the Sooners is going to be a tough task.

“It is going to be a great environment with a lot of fans, and a loud home crowd,” Morgan said. “We get excited for challenges on the road, but our biggest challenge is truly just competing against ourselves. Our goal is to improve from last weekend and to continue to get even better.”

Morgan has been one of Stanford’s most consistent performers of the season, winning four individual all-around titles and earning herself a Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week award in late January. However, the team will need much more than just Morgan, looking to fellow senior Nicole Dayton, who has been one of the strongest performers on vault throughout the season, and a strong core of young players as the team tries to pull of a big upset victory.

Contact Connor Scherer at cscherer “at”

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