By Cybele Zhang
To start April, The Stanford Daily’s Sports Twitter published a bracket with interactive polls, allowing the general public to vote for the 2019-20 Athlete of the Year.
Starting with 64 of the school’s top athletes, the list was narrowed down to one final athlete over the course of six day and six rounds. Families, teammates, coaches, friends, alumni and even people outside of the greater Stanford community took part in 59 separate polls to select junior all-around gymnast Kyla Bryant as The Stanford Daily’s Athlete of the Year.
Largely thanks to the self proclaimed “gymternet,” Bryant defeated No. 13 seed Sunny Villapando of beach volleyball in Round 1, No. 5 seed Madeline Gates of women’s volleyball in Round 2, No. 1 seed Catarina Macario of women’s soccer in Round 3, No. 6 seed Katie Meyer of women’s soccer in Round 4, No. 1 seed Kathryn Plummer of women’s volleyball in Round 5 and No. 12 seed Neel Rajesh of men’s tennis in Round 6.
In total across the six rounds, Bryant racked up a total of 6,329 votes. Despite claiming the prize, however, Bryant’s margins of victory were generally narrow. The largest percentage of the vote she received in a single poll was 62.5% against Macario.
Although this season was generally lackluster for the women’s gymnastics team as a whole, Bryant was a bright spot for the Cardinal. The junior earned Second Team All-America honors on floor from the Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association (WCGA), becoming the 34th All-American selection in Stanford history and first since Elizabeth Price in 2018.
Bryant also picked up All-Pac-12 First Team selections on both floor and all-around, becoming one of only seven gymnasts to earn conference recognition in multiple categories.
Bryant’s performance aside, there were numerous highlights of the polls that provided entertainment and some healthy competition during quarantined spring break.
Biggest tournament upset
Arguably the biggest surprise of the bracket was Rajesh, a freshman. He was selected for the bracket, despite competing at the No. 5 slot for the tennis team, largely because of his key comeback win that helped the Cardinal secure an upset of No. 5 Ohio State. Rajesh has a 13-9 overall singles record and competed most often in doubles with junior Axel Geller as partner.
On his way to the final two, Rajesh upset many big names in Cardinal sports: No. 5 seed Tyrell Terry of men’s basketball in Round 1, No. 4 seed Tanner Beason of men’s soccer in Round 2, No. 1 seed Brody Malone of men’s gymnastics in Round 3, No. 2 seed Shane Griffith of wrestling in Round 4 and No. 2 seed Grant Shoults of men’s swimming in Round 5.
Rajesh also received a few endorsements from professional tennis players — including Bob and Mike Bryan, the most successful men’s tennis duo of all time.
Most voted on poll/most retweeted poll
Both with huge followings, Bryant and Meyer brought in over 4,000 voters and nearly 50 retweets to this close Round 4 match up.
Despite an impressive season, senior cross country and track and field athlete Ella Donaghu proved no match for reigning AAU James E. Sullivan Award winner and three time national champion Plummer. One voter even dubbed the outside hitter “the LeBron of volleyball.”
The closest race
This poll literally came down to the final seconds, and only a few votes prevented Griffith from making the Final Four.
Round 2 saw an upset by No. 8 seed Jaylen Jasper of men’s volleyball over No. 1 seed Ben Hallock of men’s water polo. The surprise fueled of flurry of comments from the water polo world, including this one.
With this elimination, men’s water polo was the only 2019-20 national championship team that failed to send a player to the Elite Eight.
Despite the outcome of the polls, I think the opportunity for reader engagement was productive in such an unprecedented time. Given the cancellation of sports worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the polls did their job in providing an entertaining substitute for March Madness for many.
I personally have heard numerous anecdotes from friends on Stanford sports whose teams were excited to rally behind their respective sport, and the tight polls were telling in the depth and ability across Cardinal teams.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.