By David Kiefer
Beginning her 10th season as Stanford's women's gymnastics coach, Kristen Smyth was sure of one thing: The Cardinal has never scored as high in an opening meet as it did Sunday in winning the Pac-10 Showcase over No. 1 UCLA and the rest of the conference at Pauley Pavilion.
Sixth-ranked Stanford, fresh off a fourth-place NCAA finish last year, scored 196.625 points to finish ahead of defending champion UCLA's 195.925, with Oregon State third at 195.375 in an inaugural meet that drew all seven conference programs, six ranked among the nation's preseason Top 25, and attracted a crowd of 4,028.
"It was a great place to start," Smyth said. "It was a strong team effort, and the senior class was pretty amazing."
All three seniors competed in the all-around, with Allyse Ishino (39.350) and Shelley Alexander (39.250) finishing second and third, respectively. Danielle Ikoma (38.950) finished sixth in her first collegiate all-around.
Ishino tied her career best in the uneven bars (9.925) and set another in the floor exercise (9.90) as Stanford gymnasts set four career bests, including freshman Kristina Vaculik's debut scores on the bars (9.750) and balance beam (9.850), and tied four others.
Ishino's floor routine is unique in that she choreographed it herself. It consists of only two passes and highlights her amazing hip-hop dance moves. Last year, it appeared judges weren't quite sure what to make of it, but perhaps that has changed.
"It was nice to see artistry rewarded," Smyth said. "She is such a gifted performer and choreographer, and she just lights up an arena."
In addition, Alexander and junior Alyssa Brown finished in a four-way tie for first in the vault at 9.875, an event that Stanford won (49.150). The Cardinal also had the highest team score on the beam (49.125).
The big scores by Ishino and Alyssa Brown (9.90) on the bars were no accident. Because they were the final two in the lineup that performed strong throughout, they could afford to be more aggressive and shoot for bigger scores.
Sophomore Ashley Morgan also had a big day, tying her career best on the floor, with a runner-up score of 9.925, matching Ishino's bar routine as Stanford's highest scores of the meet.
Overall, Stanford stuck every routine, something it didn't do in any meet last year.
"We still have adds to make, more athletes to bring into the lineup, and plan to add more difficulty," Smyth said. "But the confidence and consistency out of the gate was great to see."
The meet provided a dry run for the Pac-10 Championships, which will be held at the same site on March 19, complete with byes, a big crowd, and a big-meet atmosphere.
Stanford will see more of UCLA when it plays host to the Bruins in a dual meet on Jan. 23 at 2 p.m. at Burnham Pavilion in Stanford's home opener. They will compete against each other four times through the Pac-10 Championships and perhaps again in NCAA competition.
Last year, the teams went 2-2 against each other, and have combined to capture the past 14 Pac-10 titles.