January Stanford sports roundup

The weather outside is frightful, but many of Stanford's winter squads are delightful. As the Card march toward Directors' Cup No. 18, here's the scuttlebutt on fencing, wrasslin' and men's and women's basketball, gymnastics, indoor track and swimming.

Housekeeping: Have to draw the line somewhere, so we're looking at Directors' Cup sports only. We're also looking at in-season sports only, so no alumni softball games, at least not until spring.

Men's basketball - Time to start up another NCAA Tournament streak? It's going to be close, as Stanford is looking good, but not great, in a watered-down Pac-12. Winning the conference tournament in March would make this discussion moot, but as of now, we're 5-4 in conference at the midway mark. We duck the Washingtons on the second lap and five are at home, so I'm thinking 5-4 or 6-3. Before Sunday's loss to Cal we were 60th on KenPom, and we're 84th in the RPI, so would 6-3 be enough?

Women's basketball - Off last year's Final Four appearance, the women (18-1, 9-0 Pac-12) look in good position to find themselves playing on the final weekend for the fourth straight season. They're currently slotted as the third or fourth No. 1 seed, and have won 66 straight Pac-12 games, including a 74-71 overtime squeaker over Cal. They've split their two highest-profile games, beating Tennessee 97-80 off Nneka Ogwumike's 42 points, and dropping their only game of the season, 68-58 to Connecticut. Nneka, averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds, would be a shoe-in for National Player of the Year were it not for Baylor's Brittany Grimer.

Fencing - Off last year's 10th place finish, this year's co-ed squad has set the Final Four as a goal. A five-person freshman class, headlined by foilist Lily McElwee and sabre specialist Cameron Lindsay, portends a bright future. The team's one event thus far was an invitational in Colorado, where the women went 5-1 and the men 4-2. They'll host NCAA Regionals on March 10.

Gymnastics - The No. 6 men are 4-1, splitting a series with California before winning the Stanford Open last weekend over Cal, Washington and Nebraska. Junior Eddie Penev has twice posted career bests in the all-around and the team's overall score keeps increasing each meet. The No. 12 women are also 4-1 after last weekend's loss at Oregon State. Amanda Spinner, an aptly-named sophomore, completed her first routine in Corvallis after six knee surgeries and two years out of the gym. The emotional moment may have practical implications too – the thin team could benefit from her presence in the lineup.

Swimming - The No. 8 women are 8-1 overall after last weekend's wins at UCLA and No. 7 USC. Senior Samantha Woodward won four events at Figueroa, and in Westwood, set a Pac-12 dual meet record with a 22.67 50-yard free. The No. 3 men (6-1) are having a special season, and it would have been that more special if they could have pulled the upset against visiting No. 1 Arizona (6-0) on Jan. 21. Instead, the Wildcats took the top three places in the final individual event, the 400 IM, and hung on in a 153-145 squeaker. Freshman diver Kristian Ipsen is 10-0, while senior Chad La Tourette has lost just one long-distance event in a dual meet his entire Stanford career.

Indoor track and field - For the women, early season standouts include cross country star Kathy Kroeger, a junior, and redshirt senior Arantxa King. King is a 2008 Olympian out of Bermuda and a 2010 NCAA runner-up in long jump, but missed 2011 injured, so it's an encouraging sign to see her return to form in early 2012. For the men, duo Elliott Heath and Chris Derrick are dominating the distance events, as has been their modus operandi on the Farm. Conference championships are Feb. 24 and 25, and NCAA championships are March 9 and 10 in Boise.

Wrestling - Like field hockey in the fall and lacrosse come spring, wrestling is the winter program on the greatest upward trajectory. Senior Nick Amuchastegui, ranked No. 1 in the nation at 174 pounds, and junior Ryan Mango are a combined 27-0 in dual meets, leading the No. 20 men to a 8-6 overall and 3-1 Pac-12 mark. Stanford has one more week of competition and then rests up for the Feb. 26 Pac-12 Championships.

Food for thought: What if we were to get some linemen, especially guys who don't see a ton of playing time in the fall, onto the squad. I imagine they'd have to wrestle in the open-weight category, but it can only help these linemen on the gridiron, I imagine it's more stimulating than the same-old winter conditioning they've been doing for years, it wouldn't cost wrestling scholarships, it would present the wrestlers with a whole new challenge in practice, and it could only help both squads' bottom lines. Plus, there's precedent, of course. Football is used to two-sport athletes -- for most recent examples, see Gerhart, Toby and Gaffney, Tyler -- and those backs' performance certainly hasn't lagged on the gridiron. Seems like a win-win all around.

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