Stanford’s recent results have been very much a mixed bag, the mixed-est of mixed bags. Since those very strong teams of 2007 and 2008 (the Tabitha Yim, Liz Tricase, Carly Janiga years), each year the Cardinal either finish a surprising and admirable 4th that few predicted (2010, 2012) or disappoint, missing Nationals entirely in 2011, suffering the Ivana Hong injury and limping to a semifinal 194 in 2013, or recording last year’s fine but tepid semifinal 196.600 (with 49.025s on vault and floor) that whiffed at a legitimate opportunity to take advantage of an off day from LSU.
At its healthy ideal, this year’s team appears closer to 4th place than a whiff and would seem under-ranked at #10. The roster should be emboldened by Ivana Hong’s return after a long injury layoff and the introduction of Elizabeth Price, who is still one of the top all-arounders in the world and is the most impressive freshman in this year’s national incoming class. They’re the boost this team needs, and with many of the routines from last season returning, the amount of Hong and Price contribution will largely dictate how much Stanford can improve on that 9th-place finish from last year.
As usual, don’t be surprised by some January and February 195s, especially as Price comes back from whatever foot-adjacent issue she has been dealing with, but in the end, Super Six is a realistic expectation for this roster. Anything less than that would be a disappointing finish. That’s especially true because several significant gymnasts, namely Kristina Vaculik, are in their final year of eligibility. It’s going to be harder in 2016 than it will be 2015. This is the year, at least until those other they’re-going-to-Stanford-but-no-one’s-saying-it elites arrive.
Returning lineup — Nicolette McNair (9.910 RQS), Rachel Daum (9.870), Kristina Vaculik (9.870), Taylor Rice (9.835), Danielle McNair (9.830), Melissa Chuang (9.825)
Stanford managed to put together a fairly competitive vault lineup last season, finishing 9th in the nation with an RQS of 49.325. They did, however, falter in the postseason with way too many 9.800s and 9.825s. One or two of those scores is OK this year, but it can’t be the entire lineup if they expect to make those Super Six dreams come true. The good news is that all six postseason vaults from last year are returning, so there’s no reason to expect regression and every reason to expect improvement. No, that’s not the good news. The actual good news is Elizabeth Price. Because obviously.
Last year, Stanford’s biggest problem on vault was the lack that one stellar routine, the 9.950 that can erase some wonky landings early in the lineup. They recorded zero 9.950s on vault all year, so there was rarely a margin for any bouncy landings. Price can be that stellar vaulter when healthy, and she and Nicolette McNair should be a competitive top duo for 9.9s. If the rest of the team can cobble together at least three more consistently 9.850 vaults, they should have a solid baseline from which to work toward 49.350s. That will keep them competitive enough so that they can shine on bars and beam. It’s not going to be the biggest, baddest vault lineup from top to bottom, but it doesn’t need to be a weakness this year. The rest of the returning vaulters should fight it out for the remaining spots, with Daum and Vaculik seeming the most likely given their performances last year, and Danielle McNair bringing the difficulty with her y1.5 for 9.825.
We all know Ivana Hong has an excellent yfull that can score a 9.900 as well, but in a career with two ACL tears suffered on vault, I wouldn’t count on anything . . . Just give us a lovely bars and beam, and we have no right to ask for anything more.
Returning lineup — Kristina Vaculik (9.910), Samantha Shapiro (9.890), Nicolette McNair (9.875), Danielle McNair (9.820), Taylor Rice (9.820)
I know we get tired of DLO dismounts in NCAA because everyone and her sister does one, but Stanford is allowed as many as they want. The Cardinal were quite lovely on bars last year, much better than their #9 ranking would suggest. As is often the case with this team, some weak early-season performances and random moments of frustrating inconsistency belied their true quality. To my eye (and therefore to all sane people’s eyes), they were the top bars team in the Pac-12 by the end of the 2014 season. They should be better this year.
Unsung hero Shona Morgan is gone, but Stanford returns Vaculik’s magical gienger and Shapiro’s magical toe point, both of which are 9.900-likely routines, and can add Price’s magical difficulty and Hong’s magical new Ray. That’s four top-class bars routines to end the lineup, and Nicolette McNair isn’t all that far behind. Round out the group with Taylor Rice (if the consistency is there), or Becky Wing or Danielle McNair, and Stanford should be competitive with the best teams in the country on bars. Those vital 49.400s will be doable, and even bigger scores can be expected. Just get those dismounts ready and actually landed. None of these perfect routines getting smacked for 9.7s after clumsy landings this year, OK?
Returning lineup — Nicolette McNair (9.865), Kristina Vaculik (9.865), Rebecca Wing (9.805), Rachel Daum (no RQS)
On beam, Stanford has lost two major players, and keeping up the same quality from the start of the season will be a challenge without those high-class routines from Shona Morgan and Amanda Spinner. Morgan and Spinner were often the most likely gymnasts to hit their routines as well as being the 9.9s saviors in that lineup. (I’m using this one final opportunity to mention how criminally underscored Shona Morgan was in that leadoff position, and now I promise I’ll never talk about it again.) The returning group of beamers is elegant but also somewhat terrifying. It is Stanford after all.
Still, 49.400 is a more valuable commodity on beam than on any other event because it’s the rarest, and Stanford should be one of the handful of teams capable of reaching that level. It won’t be an every-week thing, but it should happen. Ivana Hong’s gorgeousness will radiate into the other competitors in a sort of religious experience, but she won’t have to send out greatness vapors all by herself. She’ll have help from Price, the newly-consistent Rulfova queen Vaculik, and Nicolette McNair’s weekly 9.850. I’d also love to see Becky Wing and her Badass Bangs of Beam Dominance return to the lineup after coming on strong at the end of last season. It’s not necessarily the safest or most secure lineup, and we may see some serious beamtastrophes, but this group can score well when it’s all working (probably joined by whoever wins the consistency battle between Rice, Daum, and Hanset).
Returning lineup — Kristina Vaculik (9.895), Pauline Hanset (9.860), Rachel Daum (9.855), Taylor Rice (9.855), Jenna Frowein (9.775)
Sigh. I’m worried about floor. It was Stanford’s struggle event last year. They finished the regular season ranked #23 and managed to break the 49.3 barrier just three times during the year. So many double pikes and so much OOB. Some of those double pikes are excellent and can garner solid scores when packaged in a crisp routine, but they’re still double pikes. And as made clear by those RQSs, it was largely a rotation of 9.850s, which was not helped by the mid-season injury to Hanset just as she was starting to get those bigger scores. The best teams have weekly 9.950s at the back of the lineup, and Stanford didn’t have anything like that last year. Translation: the moment Elizabeth Price can contribute on floor, she needs to be in at least three of those lineup spots, maybe all six. She can change the tide.
It’s a tough scenario because Hong and Shapiro should be there, and coupled with Price, Vaculik, Hanset, and Rice (to throw out four) they would make up a pretty strong lineup and a big upgrade over last season, but their fragility makes it impossible to expect anything on floor. I’m worried they’d just collapse like Pinocchio. That’s why getting Nicolette McNair into the lineup this year becomes very important because she does bring the difficulty and the (as yet unrealized) 9.9 potential. Stanford couldn’t get her into the lineup and hitting in time last year, but her routine will be vital in the new season as a scoring boost over last year to increase the likelihood of those 49.3s.