As one of the top 36 teams in the nation, No. 29 Stanford women’s gymnastics (6-11-1, 2-6-0 Pac-12) earned a trip to the NCAA Regionals in Seattle for the first time in three years. After three competitions in four days, the Cardinal surged to their best finish under head coach Tabitha Yim, upsetting No. 13 Oregon State in the second round on Thursday and finishing fourth in the NCAA Regional Final on Saturday.
The Cardinal kicked off their dramatic postseason run with a dual meet against Bay Area rival San José State on Wednesday to earn the final spot in the NCAA Seattle Regional.
“In round one, we were definitely a little bit nervous, and some of the routines were a little tight,” Yim said. “They certainly were tested, but our preparation gave the gymnasts the confidence to battle back and be consistent.”
Despite the nerves, the Cardinal defeated the Spartans 196.425 to 195.150 to earn the chance to compete in round two against Oregon State, No. 4 Utah and No. 19 Illinois.
Even with this win, nothing was taken for granted, especially after how the pandemic has affected the training regimens and competitions, according to Yim.
“We started the day off with just a lot of gratitude for the opportunity,” Yim said. “We really have nothing to lose, and we just wanted to celebrate having another opportunity to compete as a team.”
“After day one, it was really important for us to continue to trust our work and confidence,” said senior Morgan Hoang. “We worked so hard to get to this point, and it would be a shame to not go out with a bang and to put everything out there on the floor with no regrets.”
To advance to the NCAA Regional Final, teams must place in the top two in their respective quad meets. With Stanford competing the day before, one might have thought that there was little to no chance for the Cardinal, especially with two top-15 teams in round two.
Stanford kicked off its second day of competition with the always challenging balance beam. That did not phase the gymnasts, however, as they put up a season-high 49.350 to begin the meet in second place behind Illinois.
The momentum continued for the Cardinal, as they shifted to their best-scoring and highest-ranked event: the floor exercise. Senior Kyla Bryant closed out the rotation with a bang, earning a 10.000 from one judge and a 9.950 for the routine.
At the halfway point, Stanford was tied with Illinois in first place with 98.775, followed by Pac-12 rivals Utah and Oregon State.
The Cardinal started the second half of the meet on the vault, where career-bests from freshman Anapaula Gutierrez and senior Madison Brunette led the team to a season-high team score of 49.225.
Two season-high team scores at this point put Stanford in prime position for a big upset in the quad meet, being only 75 thousandths behind the top two teams at the end of the third rotation.
Stanford put the pressure on the top teams as five gymnasts scored 9.875 or higher on bars en route to a season-high team score of 49.450, the third of this meet.
Then, it was a waiting game in Alaska Airlines Arena as the Cardinal watched the final routine on the floor exercise from Oregon State graduate student Kaitlyn Yanish. The Cardinal ended with a season-high 197.450.
“I think I will never forget that moment in my entire life,” Yim said. “At the end of the day, we did everything that we set out to do and controlled everything that we can control, and at that moment, it wasn’t up to us.”
“As a coach, I hoped that we would make it out because of all the work they put in, but regardless of the outcome, I was going to be so proud of them either way,” Yim added.
Yanish completed her routine and would have needed a 9.900 to send the Beavers to the NCAA Regional Final and end Stanford’s season. The score popped up on the scoreboard: a 9.825.
“It was so surreal, and I could not even cry because I felt like I was in a state of shock,” Yim said after realizing Stanford had upset Oregon State. “I could not stop smiling. We were just thrilled and overcome with a lot of emotion.”
“A lot of gymnasts, especially me, dream of this moment for their entire lives to be on a team and achieve a goal like that,” Hoang said. “It made all of the dark days that the team has gone through worth it.”
“It still does not feel real,” Hoang added.
After a day off, the job was not finished for the Cardinal. With Utah also advancing with Stanford on Friday, the Cardinal now had to face the Utes, No. 5 Alabama and No. 12 Michigan State for two spots in the National Semifinals in Fort Worth, Texas.
And the Cardinal did not go down without a fight. Stanford earned its highest team score on the vault with a 49.300, en route to scoring its second-straight team score of 197.000 or higher with a 197.250. This feat had not been achieved by Stanford since 2015.
Unfortunately, Stanford’s efforts were not enough, as the top-two ranked teams in Utah and Alabama advanced out of the NCAA Regional Final with a 198.200 and 198.175, respectively. The Spartans ended the meet with a program-best 197.650 to finish in third.
With its finish in the NCAA Regional Final, Stanford ended its season as the 14th-ranked team in the nation, up 38 spots from last year. Talk about “flipping the script,” a motto Yim set for the team this season.
Despite the team not qualifying for the National Semifinals on April 14, Bryant will be competing as an individual on the floor exercise after being the highest-scoring individual on the event in Seattle.
“For her to end her story there and to start this next chapter of our program with this result is important,” Yim said of Bryant. “She takes it seriously and is grateful for the opportunity. We are so excited for her to finish out her career in that way.”