(Photo: Joseph Constantin/WCSN)
Arizona State came in last place in the first session of the Pac-12 Championship for the third year in a row, tallying a final score of a 195.600.
The Arizona State Gym Devils came into the meet with little to lose and a record that had been steadily improving. The Gym Devils were in the first session of the meet along with the Golden Bears of California, the Stanford Cardinal and the Gym Devils in-state rival, the University of Arizona GymCats. After finishing in last place at the championship in 2016, Arizona State finished in last again but earned their second-highest team total of the year.
ASU struggled on the floor throughout the season. On Saturday, it competed on floor first and it proved to be helpful as ASU went 6-for-6 in the first rotation. Sophomore Justine Callis started off strong for the with a 9.750. After a last minute lineup change, sophomore Corinne Belkoff was back in the lineup and put up a score of 9.750. Junior Nichelle Christopherson was left with a 9.650 after coming up short on her landing on the first and second passes. Freshman Jessica Ginn came next putting a much needed high score and hitting her season with a 9.800. Freshman Morgan Hart had trouble on her second pass stumbling after her layout full but managing to stay on her feet leaving her with a 9.625. Sophomore Katelyn Lentz anchored for the team putting up a solid routine earning a 9.800 giving her team the opportunity to drop Christopherson’s low score.
ASU head coach Jay Santos said he thought offseason work is vital for team improvement on the floor.
“A couple of the kids in there lost a ton of time in the middle of the season due to injuries, so they didn’t get a ton of experience early on,” Santos said. “We have all offseason to work on that.”
California came out strong on the vault earning the second score of the first rotation with a 49.00. Cal scored first 9.9 of the night thanks to freshman Mariah Peterson’s stuck landing.
Stanford put up relatively high scores on the uneven bars. The first two gymnasts both earned a score of 9.825. The Cardinal were able to drop their lowest score, an 8.825 from senior Danielle McNair as a result of a fall on her first release from the high bar. Junior Elizabeth Price anchored for the team but it was not her best routine as she stepped back on landing. However, she still earned a 9.825 to help her team end with a 48.950.
Arizona started off strong but the two and three spots had small missteps leaving them with scores all below 9.800.
Moving into the second rotation Ginn put up her fourth 9.800 in a row on vault followed by Christopherson earning a 9.650 a career high for her. Sophomore Morgan Wilson anchored for the team and put up another 9.800 for the Gym Devils.
Stanford started off strong with senior Nicolette McNair leading the team with a 9.925. Freshman Aleeza Yu had the lowest score for the Cardinal, after almost falling in the middle of her sequence. However, she was able to save it and the rest of her routine was solid enough to earn her a 9.700. Freshman Ashley Tai helped the Cardinal come back with a season-high score of 9.900. Senior Rachel Daum continued the trend of high scores earning a 9.850, which would have been higher if she did not hit the over-time mark, a one-tenth point deduction.
California continued to show why they were the top seed in the session with every gymnast except one earning a 9.800 or higher on the uneven bars. Freshman Chelsea Shu earned the highest score for the Bears with a 9.875.
Arizona moved to the floor where they were finally healthy after two months of injuries. This is the first meet where the GymCats had six healthy athletes on floor. Sophomore Lauryn Mattson came out solid for Arizona putting up a 9.800 on her floor routine. Senior Madison Cindric, the team captain, posted a 9.825 with solid routine notable for its high energy. Junior Kennady Schneider, whose signature event is floor, earned a 9.850.
Lentz led off for the Gym Devils on the uneven bars, with only her third bars competition of the year. She earned a 9.700 after some leg separation in her handstand and several other small deductions throughout her routine. Sophomore Eileen Imbus put in a solid routine on her first rotation of the day, scoring a 9.800. Hart finished with a double layout and a stuck landing to earn 9.750. Wilson, coming in on a roll on the bars with 9.800 or better in the last two meets, had a clean routine and stuck her landing to earn a 9.825. Freshman Ashley Szafranski helped contribute with a solid routine and a 9.800. Christopherson anchored the bars for the Gym Devils and finished with a small hop to earn a 9.750.
Arizona took on the vault for the third rotation, normally a weak event for Cats. Freshman Heather Swanson lead with a Yurchenko layout full earning a high score of 9.825. Freshman Jenny Leung had a clean vault with another Yurchenko layout full scoring another 9.825 to get the GymCats off to a strong start. Sophomore Lauren Mattson kept the momentum going with a Yurchenko Arabian and a clean landing with only a small hop earning a 9.800. Senior Gabby Laub competed in her first rotation of the day, and wavered a bit with a big hop on the landing but still came out with a 9.725, allowing Arizona to drop senior Selynna Felix-Terrazas’ low score of 9.700 and propelling the GymCats into second place at the end of the third rotation.
Stanford sophomore Hailee Hoffman came out strong on the floor in front of her home crowd. This has been Stanford’s weakest event – they were 0-12 on the year. The Cardinal put in a decent rotation in this championship meet as they tried to hold onto the lead they built after two rotations. Back as the anchor, Price showed up in a big way, earning a 9.925 and helping to secure the first place spot for Stanford after three rotations.
Cal faltered on the balance beam in its third rotation. This was surprising as beam was normally Cal’s best event and the Golden Bears came into the meet with an 11-4-1 record on the apparatus. Sophomore Sofie Seilnacht got the team off to a shaky start, falling off the beam in the beginning of her routine despite a year marked with consistent wins on the apparatus. The Bears looked to regroup, but that wouldn’t happen as they suffered their second fall when senior Desiree Palomares fell at the beginning of her routine leaving the Bears with another low score of 9.350. The last four routines were solid but it was not enough to keep Cal from falling to third place.
Going into the last rotation Stanford had maintained its lead, ending with a 147.350 with Arizona following closely behind with a 147.000. Cal stayed in striking distance despite a disastrous turn on the beam, and Arizona State continued to improve despite staying in last place.
Coming into the final rotation, the Gym Devils saw a chance to come away with the best meet total of the year. Callis scored a career-high on the beam with a 9.825 getting the Gym Devils off to a strong start. Senior Beka Conrad took to the beam for the last time in her career. She showed her characteristic emotion throughout the routine and held on despite a mid-routine wobble to stick her landing and earn a 9.750. Sophomore Heather Udowitch was the second Gym Devil –and not the last – to post a career high of 9.875. Szafranski added her own career high with a 9.875 helping the ASU reach a new season high of 49.275 on the beam.
“I know it’s my last time and it was sad when I landed, but it really hasn’t hit me yet. The only goal I had [for this meet] was just to have fun,” Conrad said. “I really wanted to enjoy this meet and really take in every little thing.”
The Cardinal approached their final rotation on the vault looking for its first full meet of the year and needing six solid vaults to maintain its lead. Daum lead off for the team and posted a high score 9.825. The high scores continued to come in as freshman Kaylee Cole posted a 9.850 next. The team continued with Tai and Yu each scoring 9.850. Price anchored the vault for the Cardinal scoring a 9.900 and winning the vault for session one.
Arizona was on the uneven bars for its final rotation. The GymCats started off strong with senior Krysten Howard putting up a 9.825 and sophomore Danielle Spencer-Bearham adding a 9.800 in her first rotation of the day. Laub put in a great routine, finishing with a double layout, to score 9.850 Felix-Terrazas provided the GymCats with another clean routine with a great landing and a score of 9.850. Freshman Christina Berg, finished with a small hop but earned a 9.875 with an otherwise clean routine, to lead the team on the bars.
California finished on floor. Senior Charlie Owens led off for the Bears with a high-energy routine meant to provide her team with the spark it would need to mount a comeback in the final rotation of the day. Seilnacht, who added a new tumbling pass to the middle of her set for this meet, had a strong routine adding a career high 9.850 to the team score. Junior Arianna Robinson, a strong floor performer with five wins on the season, came out with a 9.875. Senior Zoe Draghi led her team with an elegantly choreographed routine which earned a 9.900.
The meet ended with Stanford maintaining its lead to take first place with a total score of 196.625. Cal edged Arizona to take second on the strength of its final floor rotation with a score of 196.300. Arizona ended the meet in third place with 196.275 points and Arizona State rounded out the first session with a final score of 195.600. The all-around scores revealed some good news for the Gym Devils; freshman Katelyn Lentz took second with 39.075 and junior Nichelle Christopherson took third with 38.875, a promising sign for the 2018 season.
“We wanted to just go out here and finish our season really strong and I think we did that,” Christopherson said. “We were able to fight through the little mistakes and we were able to come back from them and work off of each other.”
The Gym Devils will learn if their season continues on Monday afternoon when the NCAA announces its regional selections.