NORMAN — In 2008 Maile’ana Kanewa appeared in the film “Older Than America” as Little Apple. Kanewa was 12 years old at the time and got to meet future Hollywood star Bradley Cooper. That would be the highlight of many people’s careers and lives.
“I did it because I looked like the part they were looking for, my coloring (skin tone).” Kanewa said. “I loved that kind of stuff so I tried out. I loved it. It was so much fun.”
However, Kanewa has put being a movie star to the side for now. As a freshman on the No. 2 Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team, she is focused on doing something just as dramatic. She wants to help the Sooners win their first-ever national championship.
“I think we’ve had a pretty successful season so far,” Kanewa said. “We just want to keep going and progress to nationals.”
In order to get to the national meet, the Sooners first have to take care of business at regionals.
Oklahoma earned a No. 1 seed and will host one of the six NCAA Regional Championships at 4 p.m. Saturday at Lloyd Noble Arena. No. 11 Stanford, No. 14 Penn State, No. 22 Washington, Iowa and Southern Utah will be on hand contending for the crown and a spot at nationals. The top two teams from each regional will advance to the NCAA Championships, April 19, on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles, to compete for a spot in the NCAA Super Six and a national championship April 20.
This is the second time in three years Oklahoma has played host to a regional tourney. Coach K.J. Kindler sees this team being more prepared for the postseason than the one in 2011.
“We were a strong team that year, but we are stronger this year,” Kindler said. “I think from top to bottom we have more depth on every single event. We don’t expose a large weakness on any one event.”
That was not always the case this season. Even though the Sooners were mowing down the competition and were undefeated until their final regular season meet, Kindler was not happy with the production the team was getting on the vault. But they were so dominant in others areas, they were able to make up for it.
That changed when Kanewa, a native of Hawaii, entered the lineup after sitting out the first half of the season.
“In November I had surgery, “ Kanewa said. “There was a blood clot in my hand. I wasn’t able to compete for the first half of the season. Since then I’ve competed in six or seven competitions so far, and they are going pretty well.”
Since her return, Kanewa has won three vault titles. That includes snatching the Big 12 championship with a score of 9.925.
“She sat until the UCLA meet Feb. 22,” Kindler said. “ A good 50 percent of the season she sat out. But we were needing her badly on vault. And we knew we were a much better team with her in there. She’s been very instrumental in our success on that event and continues to do so. She won the Big 12 championship as an individual. That’s a pretty big accomplishment considering she only had six competitions prior to that.”
Kindler said the only way she could explain Kanewa’s success in such a short period of time is “200 percent heart.” Kanewa said it’s just wanting to get back with her teammates.
“It was really hard just sitting there watching my teammates progress on,” Kanewa said, “and I couldn’t do anything but just sit there and watch. It also helped to motivate me when I did come back. It makes me feel really good about myself. And confident for the years to come.”
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