Of all the teams, Stanford was the most difficult to rank in my preseason ranking because this team opens the door for so much fluctuation in quality. For the first two months of last season, they were a catastrophe, and not just a “they’ll find their way once they figure out a beam lineup and start working sticks” kind of catastrophe, either. A 194 kind of catastrophe. No one can claim with any confidence that they won’t at least begin 2013 the exact same way.
Yet, it ultimately didn’t take as much as it seemed like it would to dredge them out of 194 land. Getting Alyssa Brown into the lineup on all her events and putting Ivana Hong in the all-around abruptly made this a Super Six team. I have some concern about roster turnover because I don’t see anywhere near the same kind of 9.9 potential in the freshmen that we saw from Brown and Nicole Pechanec. That’s normal because they’re new, but it won’t help the team compete in the short term.
Stanford’s best road to another 4th-place finish doesn’t travel anywhere near a fantasy land where the new ones are getting multiple 9.9s. Having Samantha Shapiro in the all-around and Kristina Vaculik competing as her most consistent self is going to be Stanford’s route of highest potential. Hong, Shapiro, and Vaculik are talented enough to account for potentially seven or eight 9.900 scores on a good day, which is exactly what a championship-caliber team is looking for from its stars. However, this group is not exactly a paragon of health and consistency. Vaculik had a forgettable freshman year, and last year Shapiro never got in on all her events while Hong barely got in under the wire.
As for the freshmen, Taylor Rice is the most interesting of the group because she is a Cassie clone, first of all, and can be lineup-ready on a couple of events, especially floor. She seems dogged both mentally and physically, which could come to the rescue of this team of fragility. Melissa Chuang is one of those solid JOs who can get a 9.800 on any event you ask of her, but expect to see the most of her on vault and beam. Maggie Teets and Jenna Frowein were the later signings, and I anticipate seeing less of them.
Nowhere was Stanford more enigmatic last year than on vault. This lineup worried me from the start, and early in the season, they were quite poor, not just in terms of landings that could be cleaned up but in terms of amplitude, body position, and overall quality. Yet, they eventually recorded the second-best score on vault in Super Six, including three vaults over 9.900. Now, a little bit of that was the judging at Nationals that is still near-unspeakable to this day, but the improvement cannot be denied.
Looking at the vaulting group for this year, I have the exact same concerns as I did last preseason. The bright spots are Hong, who got her classy Yurchenko full together by the postseason, and Nicole Dayton, whose Yurchenko half always has the potential to be 9.900. Beyond that, it’s not an accomplished group. Pauline Hanset has landing position problems that hurt her score, and I’ve never been sold on Ashley Morgan’s Yhalf. Vaculik needs to be back and capable of sitting in that 4th slot, and Chuang’s solid Yfull needs to be lineupable (word? word.) immediately. Rice’s full is fine but not amazing, though it may need to be used.
Once again, I see this as a 49.250 rotation, but if Kristen can magic them to another 49.500, then more power to her.
Here’s something important to know about Stanford on bars: of the returning gymnasts, Ashley Morgan had the highest RQS last year. The team is really into the narrative about how much she has improved on bars, but she has improved to a 9.850, not an 11.
In the real world, this lineup will be reliant on Hong, Shapiro, and Vaculik. I was pleased to see that Shapiro’s handstands that were so strong as a junior elite made a comeback last year. She can be an anchor here, and if Vaculik hits, she’s stellar. With Hong, how many years have we said, “if only” about her bars? The Stanford coaching staff has largely fixed the DLO; now it’s time to do the same to the Tkatchev or it needs to go.
There’s a little bit of potential in the freshmen here, but they all need development. I like Rice, but I think she needs a dismount. Teets has a Shaposh and a DLO but needs cleaning. The amount we see them will depend on how the likes of Wing and the Morgans fare in those early positions. I don’t see anyone but the top three in the realm of regular 9.9s, but that can be enough.
Beam has the chance to be a real strength where so many other teams are going to struggle, but the operative word is chance. Hong is a Worlds medalist on this event, and Shapiro can be absolutely beautiful here. Both need to be not only making the lineup but making it in the 5th and 6th positions. I would love to say Vaculik should be in this lineup too, but this is the event where I am the least confident with her. Shona Morgan can be excellent, and Amanda Spinner has been a real find who earns those 9.900s every week.
With Wing, Chuang, Rice, and maybe (maybe) Ashley Morgan, this rotation can be regularly over 49.300, but it epitomizes how much of an unknown Stanford will be this year. Look at this group. It could so easily turn to flames.
This is the event where I get to stop punishing Ashley Morgan for how irritating I find her father and appreciate her talent. She is the 9.9 star here (second pass issues aside). Other than Morgan, I have concerns. There is no questioning the possibility of greatness from Hong and Shapiro, but their fragility makes it less likely that they will both be intact and hitting at the same time on floor. Someone is always going to be injured or falling.
There are plenty of 9.800-9.850s from the likes of Hanset, Dayton, Wing, and Shona Morgan, but they are less likely to be major scorers. Mostly what I’m looking forward to seeing is what Taylor Rice is up to here. Her floor routines have been a ridiculous hoot, and she certainly commits. She’s the only freshman I see competing on floor, so Stanford will need to make sure her level of investment in the tumbling matches her level of investment in the dance. Otherwise, this is another 49.250.
I want to predict this team going to Super Six. I want to. I do believe that if everything turns out as it should, they will be there, but there are too many things that have to go counterintuitively right to have any confidence in that. Hong and Shapiro staying healthy for a whole season and competing the all-around most weeks? Why don’t you just ask the gumdrop princess to decree it from her cloud of peppermint?
If there is an injury to one of the major contributors, or even one of the consistent 9.850ers, I don’t think the team will be able to survive it they way the teams ranked ahead of them would be (or will have to be). I’m penciling them into the Super Six for now, but I would have the same level of surprise to their making Super Six as I would to their missing Nationals. It’s a fragile balance beam they’re walking in 2013 that may very well mimic the trajectory from last year.