By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Stanford athletic department is still looking for its 100th NCAA title and the second-ranked Cardinal men's gymnastics has a legitimate chance to acquire the prized trophy this weekend.
While most observers felt Stanford would have attained the lofty achievement by now, with top-ranked teams in cross country and women's soccer just falling short and the men's and women's swimming teams, women's volleyball and women's basketball all in the hunt.
Only UCLA has more NCAA team titles than Stanford and there's not another Division I university that can match Stanford's consecutive academic school years with at least one NCAA title. The Cardinal has recorded at least one championship in each of the previous 34 years. The school owned the record at 21 and has been adding on every year since.
Stanford waited until May to win a national title last year, with the men's volleyball doing the honors. A week later, women's tennis earned the school's 99th title.
Men's gymnastics takes its turn this weekend at Ohio State in Columbus. The preliminaries were held Thursday night. The team finals take place Friday night.
Stanford entered the meet as the overall No. 2 qualifier based on a four-meet average of scores during the regular season. That's a little deceiving, though, as the Cardinal won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title earlier this month, beating both top-ranked Oklahoma and third-ranked California.
The Cardinal enters the meet as the nation's top-ranked team on rings and the horizontal bar. Stanford ranks second in the floor exercise and the vault, third in the parallel bars and tied for fourth in the pommel horse.
Stanford seniors Alex Buscaglia, Josh Dixon, Tim Gentry and Ryan Lieberman possess plenty of experience at the national level, having helped win the title two years ago and helped finish as the national runnerup last season.
Dixon has Stanford's top all-around score this season of 88.600 and was also the MPSF champion in the floor exercise where he is ranked No. 3 in the nation. He ranks in the top 11 nationally in four events and made the U.S. national team earlier this season.
Lieberman placed third in the all-around at the MPSF Championships and is the defending NCAA champion in the parallel bars.
Gentry and Buscaglia are among the favorites for NCAA individual titles. Buscaglia is the national leader on high bar. Gentry is the MPSF champion in the still rings and ranks third nationally in the event. He was named the MPSF Co-Gymnast of the Year.
The Cardinal can also turn to other veterans like redshirt senior Nicholas Noone, a four-time All-American.
Abhinav Ramani, Cameron Foreman and Eddie Penev are also expected to compete in multiple events, while John Martin and Jordan Nolff will specialize in one event. James Fosco, Paul Hichwa, Jason Stevens and Chris Turner will each make their NCAA debut.
Stanford plays at the Pac-10 Championships beginning Sunday at Karsten Course in Tempe, Ariz.
Stanford is looking to win its first conference title since 1999 and first individual title since Mhairi McKay won in 1997. Those are the only titles the Cardinal has won in conference tournament play, though McKay still holds the record for the lowest 56-hole total in Pac-10 history.
Stanford has been fairly successful when the Pac-10s are played at Karsten, having placed second in 2001 and third in 1992 in previous championships there.
Stanford junior shortstop Ashley Hansen is among the 25 finalists for USA Softball's Collegiate Player of the Year award, announced Wednesday by the Amateur Softball Association of America.
Hansen currently leads the nation with a .541 batting average. She also leads the Pac-10 in on-base percentage (.604) and doubles (19), while ranking second with 59 hits, a .908 slugging percentage and three triples.
Stanford (2-4, 27-8) won its first Pac-10 Conference series of the year last weekend, taking two out of three at No. 6 UCLA. The lone loss was a 14-inning affair.
The Cardinal continues conference play this weekend against Oregon State at Smith Family Stadium, beginning with Friday's game at 7 p.m.
Fourth-ranked Stanford completes its regular-season schedule at Pacific on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Cardinal (14-7, 18-8) clinched the No. 3 seed for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament with a victory over UCLA last weekend and will host the to-be-determined sixth seed when the tourney opens April 23.
With a victory, Stanford can match its conference record from last year when it went on to win both the MPSF and NCAA championships.
The top remaining seed after the first round will play host to the conference semifinals and final. The MPSF tournament champion receives an automatic berth into the four-team NCAA tournament, though a second MPSF team will likely receive an at-large.
Women's water polo
It all comes down to The Big Splash. Neither Stanford nor California would want it any other way.
The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season title and the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament is at stake when the top-ranked Cardinal (5-0, 21-0) meets the second-ranked Bears (6-0, 21-3) Saturday at 7 p.m. in Berkeley.
Stanford beat Hawaii, 10-8, last weekend. The Cardinal scored four of the final six goals over the final 6:50 to break a 6-6 tie.
Annika Dries scored three goals to lead all players while Kaley Dodson, Jillian Garton and Melissa Seidemann each scored twice and Menlo School grad Kim Krueger added a goal.
California is paced by the play of Breda Vosters (52 goals) along with Dana Ochsner (33 goals), Ashley Young (32) and Emily Csikos (24).
In the cage, goalie Stephanie Peckham leads the MPSF with 10.46 saves per game and ranks seventh with a goals-against average of 6.42. Fellow goalie Lindsay Dorst, a Menlo-Atherton grad, ranks third in the MPSF with a 4.86 goals-against average.
Stanford carries a 29-game winning streak against California into Saturday's meeting, a run that includes one win already this season.
The Cardinal has six different players with at least 20 goals, led by 47 from Dries. The list also includes Seidemann (35), Alyssa Lo (31), Krueger (25), Dodson (22) and Sacred Heart Prep grad Pallavi Menon (21).