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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Chloe Widner’s closing bow: Excellent 10s and a Cinderella story with Nerd Nation (aka Stanford ladies’s gymnastics)

When Chloe Widner caught her gainer full dismount astray on Stanford’s senior night time, it felt inevitable. Her teammates and Maples Pavilion may sense it: Widner had lastly earned the primary good 10 of her 5 yr profession with the Cardinal.

“It’s undoubtedly a second that I’m going to maintain with me perpetually,” Widner informed Gymnastics Now in March. “Getting a ten has been part of my objective for thus lengthy and particularly on beam.”

4 weeks later, Widner took the ground for Stanford on the NCAA regional closing at California. All three different faculties had wrapped up their closing rotation, and Stanford simply had Widner to go. The Cardinal had been nonetheless trailing Denver however may go the Pioneers and declare the ultimate spot at nationals with a 9.875 or higher from Widner.

Widner delivered as soon as once more.

For simply the second time in her profession, Widner earned an ideal 10, this one clinching Stanford’s first journey to the NCAA championships since 2016.

Widner nearly didn’t get the possibility to earn both of these 10s. Earlier within the season, at a meet in opposition to Arizona on January 27, Widner harm her ankle in warmups. On the time of the harm, which she refers to as a “sobering second,” she didn’t know if she can be out for the season or only a day. Widner was solely capable of compete on bars for 4 weeks. She lastly made her return to beam and ground on February 23. Two weeks later, she hit the objective she got down to obtain since her freshman yr.

Accidents have been a part of the story for the Stanford staff this yr. Via a number of meets this season, the Cardinal solely put up 5 athletes on some occasions. Throughout Stanford’s first meet of the yr in opposition to Michigan, they solely used 5 gymnasts in each their vault and bars lineups, and so they needed to rely two routines with falls. The Cardinal left that meet with a 193.625.

Since, the staff has gotten more healthy. Together with Widner, Anna Roberts returned in March after she missed January and February, and Sienna Robinson joined lineups in February. The Cardinal scored 49.4+ on bars or beam early within the yr, however their lack of depth would harm their consistency and scores throughout the board.

“For those who look again at our meets up to now, now we have hit occasions very, very effectively,” Widner mentioned. “We simply haven’t been capable of put all of it collectively as a result of now we have had some individuals out.”

The return of those key athletes has helped enhance the staff’s confidence in addition to their scores, which reached a peak on senior night time because the staff put up a 197.975 – Stanford’s second highest complete in program historical past. Not solely did they’ve all six gymnasts obtainable for every lineup, however the gymnasts every needed to compete for his or her spot in these lineups.

“Each single individual that was competing needed to earn their spot within the lineup,” Widner mentioned. “We lastly lived as much as our potential as a result of everybody may belief within the truth, ‘I’m not simply going as a result of I’m the one possibility. I’m going as a result of I’ve the coaching, and I’m superb.’

“I feel we lastly hit our stride.”

They selected the proper time to hit their stride. Whereas their early season struggles had few selecting Stanford to advance to Fort Price, the staff has continued to peak since turning that nook in March. The Cardinal has scored over a 197 in 5 of their final six meets, together with above a 197.500 at each of their regional meets. This late-season consistency allowed Stanford to upset two ranked groups in Auburn and Denver, and clinch their spot within the nationwide semifinals as as soon as of the ultimate eight groups vying for the NCAA title.

Nerd Nation embraces individuality (and enjoyable)

As they demonstrated throughout regionals, when wholesome, Stanford isn’t just a superb staff, however a novel one as effectively; it begins with their routines.

Whereas one criticism of NCAA gymnastics is just too many gymnasts have cookie cutter or related routines, Stanford’s lineups discover a option to exhibit individuality. Whether or not it’s Anapaula Gutierrez’s double entrance half dismount on bars, Brenna Neault’s low beam work throughout her mount, Taralyn Nguyen’s gainer format stepout-gainer format stepout collection on beam, or Ira Alexeeva’s press handstand on beam (or her Higgins and eagle grip utilization on bars), there’s a degree of distinctness all through their routines.

This character can also be evident within the gymnasts’ ground routines. Stanford got here into the season significantly enthusiastic about their new ground routines, and so they’ve delivered. Amanda Zeng’s routine brings again childhood reminiscences together with her Tremendous Mario music. The lineup shifts its tone after Zeng, when Neault showcases a James Bond routine. Widner additionally takes inspiration from the flicks in her routine, utilizing music from “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” to play an murderer that’s sneaking round and attempting to not get caught.

Widner credit assistant coach Hallie Mossett, who she calls an “insane dancer,” for not simply arising with these routines, however serving to the staff purchase into them of their performances. Previous to becoming a member of Stanford in 2022, Mossett was beforehand a UCLA gymnast, the place she herself was a two-time All-American on ground. After graduating from this system recognized for its choreo and ground work, Mossett started her teaching profession as an undergraduate assistant for the Bruins. As an assistant, she helped choreograph her former teammates’ ground routines on the best way to their nationwide championship in 2018.

“That’s just about all Hallie,” Widner shared. “Her addition to this staff has been wonderful. She’s simply so artistic and might provide you with actually cool choreography.”

“Over the summer time, she sat down with every individual that does ground individually,” Widner mentioned. “She actually works like one-on-one with us and tries to play to our particular person strengths. It actually exhibits in our ground routines as a result of all of us genuinely love them. She brings so many enjoyable little video games … she’s made it a lot enjoyable, and it’s nearly bizarre in the event you don’t purchase into it at this level.”

This individuality, after all, begins with the Stanford surroundings, which Widner and her teammates check with as “Nerd Nation”:

“Everybody at Stanford has a factor that they’re very, superb at. To get into Stanford, I feel after getting right here everybody sort of embraces that, we name ourselves nerd nation. ‘We may be a bit nerdy, we may be a bit bizarre, however that is who we’re.’ Moving into Stanford is such an enormous deal that when we get right here, I feel individuals let free a bit extra.”

“Nerd Nation” additionally interprets to their ‘quirky’ but self conscious leotards that solely add to the character of the staff. Stanford started the yr donning their now-famous Offended Tree leotard – a black leotard that contains a cartoonized model of the Stanford Tree. It’s a distinctly totally different tone than typical collegiate leotard designs.

“That leo, particularly, actually encapsulates who we’re as a staff as a result of we do work very arduous and we’re clearly right here to compete, however we actually benefit from the foolish moments and simply embracing the issues that acquired us into Stanford,” Widner defined. “It’s a must to be a bit bizarre – you need to have one thing to have the ability to come right here.”

The Cardinal might be seen embracing these ‘foolish’ moments after their teammates’ ground routines. When Nguyen ends her ground routine, the staff will toss her up into the air. In the meantime, Victoria Cluck ends her routine in a pose that makes it appear as if she’s dying. As soon as she salutes, she will get again down on the ground, and her staff comes over to pull her off the ground like they’re carrying a corpse.

“It actually makes us extra cohesive as a staff to do silly issues like that,” Widner defined.

Widner admits they nonetheless have work to do on these “silly moments,” together with carrying Cluck higher. “We undoubtedly ought to have practiced earlier than as a result of I feel we had been hitting her head [on the floor].”

Regardless of embracing foolish and silly moments, Stanford can nonetheless come collectively in a extra critical style. When Widner caught the beam dismount that may earn her first 10, she was rushed by her staff. Neault was essentially the most ecstatic, instantly bursting into tears earlier than Widner’s rating even got here up.

“Brenna [Neault] was crying earlier than they even flashed the rating,” Widner mentioned. “I feel she knew. After I completed my routine, she came to visit and hugged me and he or she was simply sobbing … then they flashed the rating, and he or she was crying even tougher.”

Not lengthy after Neault started crying, Widner and the staff joined in too – “I genuinely didn’t suppose I used to be gonna cry, however instantly, listening to my teammates begin yelling, I used to be sobbing.”

Widner offers credit score to her staff, not only for selflessly celebrating together with her, however creating the momentum main into her first collegiate 10. Going into this accomplishment, Widner assumed that the second can be primarily a private achievement – her lastly reaching a objective she’s strived for. In hindsight, Widner realized that the second was way over simply her routine.

“I didn’t actually notice till I acquired [the 10] how a lot of a staff second it could be,” Widner mirrored. “I sort of thought, ‘This has been my objective perpetually. I’m going to be tremendous excited after I get it.’”

“Each single woman within the lineup earlier than me was setting me up. They’re all hitting the routines. You understand, we had a couple of 9.95s, 9.975s. As I used to be seeing that occur, I used to be like, ‘Alright, they’re all doing their job. I must capitalize on this and and simply hit my routine.’ Simply having all of it come collectively as a staff is de facto wonderful.”

The staff effort got here by means of as soon as once more a month later at regionals. Previous to Widner’s good 10 that sealed their spot on the NCAA championships, Neault scored a 9.9 and Roberts scored a 9.95, organising the possibility for Widner to hit and rating massive.

The staff celebration for this 10 was much more monumental, offering the cherry on prime for Stanford incomes their first journey to nationals in eight years. Widner has beforehand certified for NCAA championships as a person, however she’s going to go alongside her staff for the primary time to shut out her storied profession.

When the championships conclude, this Stanford staff must transfer ahead with out one in all their leaders and probably the greatest gymnasts in program historical past as Widner ends her profession after 5 years with the Cardinal. Although Widner calls the upcoming finish to her gymnastics profession “bittersweet,” she admits she feels prepared to maneuver on. Widner will exit having turn into a two-time first-team All-American on beam, the 2024 Pac-12 Specialist of the 12 months, regional all-around champion, All-Pac-12 first-team on bars, and scoring (a minimum of) two good 10s. She’ll have the chance so as to add a nationwide title to this resumé in Fort Price.

“It’s undoubtedly gonna be bizarre to be achieved, however I do suppose my physique’s prepared,” Widner mentioned. “I’m getting drained. It’s very bittersweet as a result of I’m at some extent in my life the place I’m able to be achieved, however I do know I’m going to be so unhappy to be achieved with it as effectively.”

“I’ve achieved each single objective that I felt was reasonable to got down to obtain … I really feel like I’m lastly in a spot the place I’ve achieved all the things that I really feel like I can do; I’ve put in as a lot effort as attainable. I’m actually glad I got here again [for a fifth year], it was undoubtedly price it. This staff is wonderful.”

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