By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Senior Ryan Lieberman and sophomore Eddie Penev will help the Stanford men's gymnastics rev up this season Friday when the top-ranked Cardinal host No. 5 California in the season opener at Burnham Pavilion. Starting time is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Lieberman and Penev return after each won an individual national title last year as Stanford finished second in the nation.
Lieberman won the parallel bars title while Penev took home the national title on vault. Both gymnasts are two-time All-Americans.
Seniors Josh Dixon, Tim Gentry, Nick Noone and Alex Buscaglia also return to give the Cardinal a championship look.
"We are still ironing out the lineup, but I expect the upperclassmen to compete well," Stanford coach Thom Glielmi said. "We are pushing with difficulty, which that takes longer to work into the routines. While some of the guys hit percentages are not as high as I would like, they all have shown a comfort level with their routines. So the for the first meet it will be good to see which guys step up and on what events."
Freshmen Cale Robinson, Sean Senters and Chris Turner are set to make their collegiate debuts.
"The lineup will be comprised of those athletes that are most ready," said Glielmi. "We have some athletes that are either coming back from an injury or just needed a little more time to challenge for a spot, so I anticipate the lineup changing around a good amount for the five weeks."
Buscaglia, Dixon, Gentry and Lieberman are among the best all-around gymnasts in the country, but the depth of the team, not their individual talents, may keep them from competing at nationals in every event.
"We are one year out from an Olympic year and those four all are contenders to make the U.S. team," said Glielmi. "I think they are each looking to use their final NCAA season as a springboard to making the team."
Buscaglia leads the Cardinal on horizontal bar, fresh off his Gold Medal at the Pan-American Championships over the summer in Guadalajara, Mexico. He is a three-time All-American in the event.
The Cardinal has depth on the pommel horse, with as many as eight competing for the six spots in the rotation. John Martin returns after a sixth-place finish at the NCAA meet last year and "should have one of the three most difficult routines in the country," said Glielmi.
Gentry and Noone return as two of the top athletes in the nation on the rings after earning All-America honors each of the last two years.
Buscaglia and Penev earned All-American status in the floor exercise. Dixon was an All-American in 2008 on the floor and has an improved routine this year.
Junior Evan Barry takes his turn as Stanford's top setter heading into Friday and Saturday's matches against visiting BYU.
National Player of the Year Kawika Shoji carried the Cardinal to a national championship last season. Barry hopes to help duplicate that feat this year, a season dubbed "First to First" by members of the current squad.
Friday's 7:30 p.m. match will be held at Maples Pavilion while Saturday's 7:30 p.m. first serve will be in Burnham Pavilion.
"We're developing the identity of this team," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "We're not looking to replace anybody; we're looking to improve our team. And Evan Barry is not looking to replace Kawika Shoji. Nobody can. He's not filling anybody's shoes except for his."
Barry sharpened his game by qualifying for the junior world beach championships over the summer in Turkey, where he and his partner reached the quarterfinals.
"He set an offense against the best team in the nation last spring, and he did well," Kosty said. "So, we know he has the ability."
Behind Barry is 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Chandler Ka'a'a, who brings a physical presence to the position, and junior Dylan Kordic, a converted hitter.
Erik Shoji is still around and will start an explosive offense from his libero position.
"He's one of the best liberos in the country," Kosty said. "How do you get better than that? You keep moving the bar up."
Junior Brad Lawson, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year, set a Stanford single-season record for kills (522) for Stanford.
Senior Spencer McLachlin has been largely an unsung hero since he first stepped into the starting lineup as a freshman. His passing and defense were missed when injury kept him out of four matches last season and Stanford lost two of them.
"He was the glue that held the team together," Kosty said. "He was the guy nobody paid attention to and paid the price for it. This year, I believe Spencer is ready to truly step into his new role of being 'The Guy' on this team."
Other hitters include senior Ian Connolly, redshirt junior Garrett Dobbs, junior Jake Vandermeer, sophomore Jake Kneller, and freshmen Brian Cook, Steven Irvin, Eric Mochalski, and Daniel Tublin.
Junior middle Gus Ellis has shown to be superb blocker, with three nine-block performances last season. His linemate will come from a group that includes Charley Henrikson, Mochalski, Max Halvorson and freshman Denny Falls.
Fourth-ranked Stanford takes a six-game winning streak into Seattle for its Pac-10 contest against Washington at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Cardinal (3-0, 12-2) travels to Pullman to meet host Washington State Sunday at 1 p.m.
Stanford is coming off a sweep of the Arizona schools at Maples Pavilion, beating Arizona State, 82-35, on Saturday.
The Cardinal has won its past nine meetings with the Huskies and 13 of 14 overall. Stanford has not lost in Seattle since December of 2005.
Stanford senior Austin Staab made such a big splash in his return to the Cardinal swimming program, he earned collegeswimming.com's national swimmer of the week following three wins over Pacific last week.
Staab, the NCAA 100 fly champion two years ago, won the 100 fly with a time of 50.40, the 100 free in 45.42 and the 200 free in 1:40.67.
The 13-time All-American is also a four-time Pac-10 Champion, who holds the school-record in the 200 free (1:32.71) and the 100 fly (44.18).