The No. 10 Stanford women’s gymnastics team will set its sights on the first national title in program history when it kicks off competition at the NCAA Championships today in Birmingham, Ala., with the semifinals starting in the morning before the Super Six team finals take place tomorrow.
It will be the seventh time in the last eight years that Stanford will compete at the NCAA Championships, with the Cardinal having advanced to this year’s meet after one of the strongest performances of their season at the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional two weekends ago. At that meet, the Cardinal tied their season high with a 197.275 to finish second and advance along with first-place LSU, which netted the highest national team score at that point in the season with a 198.325.
The third-ranked Tigers will again face off against the Cardinal at this meet, which will also draw No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 Michigan and No. 11 Illinois as part of their semifinal. The top three teams will advance to the finals tomorrow.
Although the Cardinal are the second-lowest seed in their semifinal, they have had a relatively successful track record against the top teams in the nation this season, owning three wins against top-10 teams. In addition, having averaged 196.400 in its meets this season and having broken 197.000 in each of its last two, Stanford will be in good shape to keep up with the semifinal teams. However, it will need to do more and kick it up an additional notch in order to not just keep up but also excel against its tough opponents, which are all capable of scoring in the high-197 range and even above 198.000, as both Oklahoma and LSU have done this season.
Stanford is also familiar with taking a double-digit seed into the Championships, as it also competed in the 2012 NCAA Championships as a No. 10 seed and finished in second in the semifinals en route to a fourth-place national finish in the Super Six, using the highest NCAA Championship scores in program history in the vault, bars and beam to do so.
The Cardinal will be looking to avoid the disappointment of last season, when they also finished second at their regional before finishing in last place overall at the NCAA Championships with a disappointing 194.700 in the semifinals.
Junior Samantha Shapiro and senior Kristina Vaculik will be looking to replicate twin 9.950 scores in the bars at the regional competition two weeks ago in order to help propel the Cardinal past Georgia, Oklahoma and LSU, which all rank top-five in the nation in the event.
Meanwhile, LSU and Oklahoma are the nation’s two best teams in the vault, meaning that sophomore Melissa Chuang and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Nicolette McNair, who tied atop Stanford’s squad with twin seventh-place finishes at the regional competition, will need to aim for even greater heights in the event.
Senior Shona Morgan and junior Rebecca Wing led the way for the Cardinal at the regional on beam with their 9.925 scores, and along with senior Amanda Spinner, they will be looked on to lead Stanford to build on its 49.450 at the regional and take down two of the better beam teams in the nation in Oklahoma and LSU.
The element of its meet that Stanford will need to have a great day in will be on the floor, in which Stanford is ranked outside of the top 20 nationally, having averaged just 48.973 in the event this season. The Card rebounded nicely with an encouraging 49.325 at the regional, with all of the gymnasts scoring 9.850 or higher to push Stanford into the floor at the NCAAs on a high note.
Vaculik, who has competed in the all-around for Stanford throughout the season, posted a season high of 39.600 and will need to emulate that performance — or exceed it — in order to keep up with other very talented all-around gymnasts at the semifinal, including LSU’s Rheagan Courville, who has had a strong and consistent season that has manifested with the second-highest average in the nation.
Although Stanford will be facing stiff competition in the semifinals, it has the experience and the talent necessary to square off against its opposition and make another run into the Super Six. The first session will kick off at 11 a.m. today.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.