(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
The Arizona State gymnastics team will travel to Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. to compete in the Pac-12 Championships on Saturday.
The Gym Devils are the clear underdogs this year, going into the meet 1-5 in Pac-12 competition with their only win coming against then-No. 23 Arizona. Still, after steady progress throughout the season, the team has a chance at redemption after finishing in last place at 2016’s Pac-12 championship meet.
This has been a rebuilding season for the Devils with a new coaching staff, including head coach Jay Santos from Eastern Michigan University, and a team stacked with seven freshmen and a junior transfer in Nichelle Christopherson. Although the team has been improving throughout the season, the Pac-12 is arguably one of the most competitive conferences for women’s gymnastics, making an improved outcome in this year’s Pac-12 Championship a real challenge.
ASU will compete in the first session, along with No. 5 California, No. 6 Arizona, and No. 7 Stanford. The second session will follow with No. 4 Washington, No. 3 Oregon State, No. 2 Utah and No. 1 UCLA.
(8) Arizona State
For ASU, look out for Christopherson who led the team on the bars and beam, and held the third highest score on the floor with a 9.800. Christopherson is the only Gym Devil likely to qualify for regionals. Freshman Ashley Szafranski is tied with Christopherson on the bars with a 9.875. Szafranski also contributed a top score on the beam, coming into the championship with a 9.825. Along with the newcomers, Arizona State has seven returning gymnasts who will look to lead the team during the championship meet.
The stand out for the Cardinal is junior Elizabeth Price. Price is a six-time All-American and won Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year in 2016. Last year Stanford finished fifth in the Pac-12 Championship. The team lost senior all-arounders Ivana Hong and Taylor Rice after the 2016 season and since then Stanford has struggled, finishing the season 6-11 and 3-4 in Pac-12 competition. To finish in the top five again this year, Stanford will need to stay consistent on the uneven bars and improve on the floor.
The Gym Cats standout is junior Kennady Schneider. Schneider has been solid for Arizona throughout the season, posting high scores on the uneven bars, the balance beam and the floor. Floor is her strongest apparatus; she recorded a 9.900 this year. The team finished 1-5 in the Pac-12, including a loss to Arizona State.
The California Golden Bears will be the top-seeded team in the first session, but they will be competing without Toni-Ann Williams, their junior standout who tore her achilles tendon and is out for the season. Look for senior Emily Richardson, who performs a difficult Kasamatsu Vault, to step up this weekend. Currently ranked 16th in the country, Cal is coming off a tough loss to No. 1 Oklahoma last week.
The Washington Huskies come to the competition ranked No. 15 in the nation. They have vastly improved from the 2016 season when the GymDawgs finished seventh in the Pac-12 Championship. This will be the first time Washington will be in the second session since the tournament was split into two sessions. Look out for senior Kaitlyn Duranczyk. Duranczyk scored a 9.900 on bars at last year’s Pac-12 Championship to tie for first.
(3) Oregon State
Coming into the championship ranked in the top 20 nationally on all four events, the Beavers have earned the No. 3 seed. OSU went 4-2 in the Pac-12 beating both Washington and Utah. Oregon State has had six gymnasts hit all of their routines this season, so consistency should not be an issue for this team. Last year the team tied for second place at the Pac-12 Championship. Senior Madeline Gardiner is a stand out for the Beavers. In 2016 she won a Pac-12 individual title on the beam after scoring a 9.950 and turning in a career-best in the all-around with a 39.500.
The Utes will be looking to reclaim the title they lost to UCLA last year. With freshman MyKayla Skinner, who is currently the No. 2 all-arounder in the nation, it may be possible. The Red Rocks finished the season 5-1 in Pac-12 play. The team’s only loss came in February against Oregon State – and the margin at that meet was only .025. Skinner will likely be a standout at the meet but she is not the only Ute to watch. Be on the lookout for senior Baely Rowe who is ranked ninth in the nation in the all-around.
The defending Pac-12 champions have had an impressive season. The Bruins scored eight perfect 10s, two coming from their final regular season meet against North Carolina, where the team earned its highest score of the season a 197.800. UCLA is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation. The Bruins rank seventh nationally on the vault, sixth on the floor, third on the beam, and second on the bars. Unlike many teams, the UCLA team isn’t built around a single gymnast who outshines the rest. This team has a whole roster full of stars. Freshmen and former U.S. Olympians Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross have been standouts all season and both share a perfect 10 career high on the uneven bars. Redshirt senior Christine Peng-Peng Lee and sophomore Katelyn Ohashi have also contributed perfect 10s and solid routines throughout the season.
The Pac-12 Championship begins with session one at 1 p.m. Session two is slated for 6 p.m. Both sessions will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network.