NORMAN — The phrase “pressure can burst a pipe or make a diamond” is used often in the sports world. Six women’s gymnastics teams will put that old adage to the test at 4 p.m. today in the NCAA Regional Championship at Lloyd Noble Center.
With only the top two squads advancing to the national championships April 19-20, every routine has to be their best or they could be watching the meet from home in two weeks.
“I think for our team we just need to do what we have been doing, be confident and have fun this time,” Oklahoma’s Taylor Spears said. “We have fun at all meets, but we just need to let loose and show everyone what we have.”
The second-ranked Sooners (21-1) earned a No. 1 seed at the regional and will be joined by Stanford, Penn State, Washington, Iowa and Southern Utah. Each of them are fighting to make sure they’re the last ones standing when the weekend is over.
“We need to have fun, but of course, everyone knows we need to place in the top two in order to get to nationals,” Penn State’s Sharaya Musser said. “The one thing we have really been focusing on is doing what we’ve done all season. We put the pressure on ourselves in practice so we can handle it in a situation like we will be in tomorrow.”
This is the sixth consecutive year for Iowa to make it to regionals. However, it has not finished in the top two since 2004. Despite having a team that has gone through major injuries and filled with underclassmen, senior Emma Stevenson believes her squad has what it takes to make it to nationals this year.
“We just approach it like any other,” Stevenson said. “While this is the biggest meet of the year up to this point, it also needs to feel like every meet that you have had. I feel like that’s the best way to approach it. We have the talent, we just have to get our mindset in the right place.”
For Washington coach Joanne Bowers, handling pressure began before her team even arrived in Norman.
“We practiced all last week the routines we are going to do,” Bowers said. “The things we can control are hitting our routines. There is some great competition here. But on any given day, whoever hits their routines, advances.”
The Sooners are looking to continue their streak of nine straight seasons of making it out of the regional meet and into nationals. Being able to compete at home gives the Sooners a slight home-court advantage.
“I think we are the only game in town,” OU coach K.J. Kindler said. “Based on that I’m hoping everyone will come out and support us. Whether you are supporting Oklahoma gymnastics or Oklahoma in general, it makes an enormous difference for the athletes to have that kind of electricity within the arena. That kind of atmosphere catapults your team to a different place.”
But none of the other teams are conceding to Oklahoma.
“We know coming into this it’s gong to be kind of a longshot for our program,” Southern Utah coach Scott Bauman said. “But we also know that we are all here to move on to the next round. I don’t care if we are the sixth (seed) team, we expect to go on to. For this meet right now, our goal is real simple. We’re not trying to go out there and blow anybody’s socks off. We’re trying to go out there and hit 24-for-24 routines and get our job done.”
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