By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Before the season began, Oklahoma’s men’s gymnastics team saw it coming. The Sooners knew when the 2014 schedule was first announced that if they were going to be crowned national champion, it would mean going through defending national champion Michigan to make it happen.
With the NCAA championships beginning today at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., it looks like the top-ranked Sooners’ prophecy has come true. Not only are the Sooners at the home of Big Blue, but Big Blue is ranked No. 2 behind them.
“Even though we’ve been ranked No. 1 all year, we’ve always looked over the horizon and knew that Michigan was out there,” OU coach Mark Williams said. “Having to beat them on their home floor, that’s going to be a hard task. Everybody in the arena is really going to be against us, except for our parents. It’s going to have to take some special qualities for those guys to step up to get it done.”
The Sooners will begin competition in the first session of today’s qualifying round. OU gets started at 11 a.m. along with No. 4-seed Stanford, No. 5 Illinois, No. 8 Iowa, No. 9 California and No. 12 William & Mary.
The late session, beginning at 6 p.m., includes Michigan, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 6 Penn State, No. 7 Minnesota, No. 10 Air Force and No. 11 Nebraska.
The top three teams from each session will compete for the national championship at 6 p.m. Friday.
The Sooners believe it will come down to them and the Wolverines, as it did last year when Michigan came out on top by a score of 443.200 to 440.100.
“I think all it’s going to take is consistency and just wanting it more than any other team,” OU’s Jacoby Rubin said. “If we want it and we’re consistent, I think we got it.”
Led by Sam Mikulak, Michigan is looking to become the first team to repeat as NCAA champions since the 2005-06 Sooners. He won three individual title last year and has a chance to do so again, which would give him the most national titles in NCAA history.
OU has a different strategy.
“We’re not going to rely on one guy, and Michigan has a tendency where almost a third of their team is going to be Sam Mikulak,” Williams said. “He’s just that good. I have it spread out so nobody is doing all-around. It’s going to be a collective effort. The 14 or 15 guys I put out on the floor, are each doing between one to four events. It’s really going to be about the team, not just one talented guy.”
One of the Sooners who will be competing is freshman Allan Bower. He’s making his first trip to the NCAA tournament and already envisions the type of reception his team will get from the partisan crowd.
“Michigan is going to have the dominant crowd, so they are going to be loud for them and quiet for us,” Bower said. “We are just going to have to get loud and back each other up on each event.”
Williams knows it’s going to take something extra to claim a national championship.
“You have to have some kind of special energy,” Williams said. “There’s always a spark when you have a national championship, where something happens and everyone just gets on board and gets on a roll.
“Somewhere along the line, you catch fire and carry it to the end. I’m hoping we have that kind of magic on Friday.”
Follow me @eyeamtruth
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.