By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team has been on a tear this year. Despite ending its regular season last week with a loss to then No. 5 Alabama, the No. 2 Sooners (19-1) have dominated the 2013 campaign.
Oklahoma showed just how impressive it has been when it earned a conference-best 13 All-Big 12 awards, which is the most in program history. The Sooners earned every all-conference spot except one, earning the highest percentage of spots by any one team in league history.
Brie Olson and Taylor Spears racked up the most honors with three each and were both selected for the two all-around awards. Olson, an All-Big 12 performer last season on vault and bars, added bars and floor in her final season with Oklahoma.
OU has led the conference in All-Big 12 selections each of the past six years with at least eight. The All-Big 12 squad consists of the top three conference gymnasts with the highest regional qualifying score (RQS) in each event, plus the top two all-around gymnasts.
Spears finished tops in the conference on beam and also earned All-Conference on floor, giving her five honors for her career after earning All-Big 12 on beam in 2011 and 2012.
Erica Brewer, Keeley Kmieciak and Haley Scaman also earned all- conference honors.
The most surprising award winner may have been sophomore Lauren Alexander, who earned her first career All-Big 12 honor after finishing second in the conference on beam.
Alexander sat out all of last year after graduating from Plano High. But she decided gymnastics was still in her blood and returned to competition this year.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” Alexander said. “It was tough coming back after a couple of years off. I am really glad I got to compete this year. I missed it a lot.”
Coming out of high school, Alexander was recruited by Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Missouri, Nebraska and Stanford. But at the time she was done with the sport.
“It was a lot of things,” Alexander said. “I had torn my ACL twice in high school. I had a lot of time off and there were a lot of mental blocks there. It was a lot harder coming here than I thought it would be. It was just a lot all at once.”
Alexander attended Oklahoma but worked at Bart Conners Gymnastics Academy last year. And whenever OU coach K.J. Kindler came by, she kept telling her there was a place for Alexander on the team if she changed her mind about competing.
“That got me thinking ... I would like to go back and give it another try,” Alexander said. “I didn’t expect competing to come back so naturally. The beam was always my favorite event to compete. I really didn’t know how I was going to react to the pressure. But I have reacted well.”
The Sooners and their six All-Conference performers are looking to defend their Big 12 title at 2 p.m. today in the Big 12 Championship in Ames, Iowa.
“I just expect the same heart and same fight we’ve had all season,” Alexander said.
Follow me @eyeamtruth
For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.