By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Mark Williams has seen some pretty special teams during his tenure at Oklahoma. Ones that were filled with future Olympic medalists, Nissen-Emery winners and national champions.
But the long-time gymnastics coach said this year’s team is different. It doesn’t have the big name superstar like it has had in previous years. However, it may be the one that is best suited to bring the program its first national championship since 2008.
“I felt that way at conference,” Williams said. “I was pretty emotional just because we had gone through a lot that week. Raymond White’s father had passed away. Another guy had a season-ending surgery to his shoulder. It was one of those things where we rallied a lot as a team to be better than ourselves in some way.”
The Sooners (18-1) earned the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Championship and will be the top seed in the first national qualifier at 1 p.m. today in State College, Pa.
“We are looking good,” senior Troy Nitzky said. “We’ve progressed the whole season. The guys are looking great. Looking to do a little bit better than we did at conference. We came out with a championship there. Looking to do better against better teams and come out with a national championship.”
The two pre-qualifying sessions each have six teams, with the top three teams in each session advancing to the NCAA finals 6 p.m. Saturday. Individual event finals will be 1 p.m. Sunday.
OU will face No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 Minnesota, No. 7 Illinois, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 11 Air Force. The second qualifier will feature No. 1 Penn State, No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 8 Iowa, No. 9 California and No. 12 Temple.
“We are just going to have to go out there do what we’ve been trained to do,” junior Pristine Ellsworth said. “This team strives off chemistry, enthusiasm and mental toughness. With all three of those put together, that’s what’s going to seal the deal for us, I think.”
Oklahoma boasts a 9-0 record this season against the five teams in its session and has defeated every team at least once. Against the twelve teams in the NCAA Championship, the Sooners are 16-1, with their lone loss coming Jan. 19 in a second-place finish to Stanford at the Stanford Open.
But the Sooners got payback when it knocked off the Cardinal to win its 20th conference championship.
“Winning the conference championship with this group was a bit of a surprise,” Williams said. “I thought Stanford was on paper a team that would be really difficult for us. But we kept the pressure on throughout the meet and won the 20th conference championship.”
Oklahoma is now in search of the program’s ninth national championship. With the new scoring system of taking only the five best scores, the Sooners like their chances.
“A lot of it’s just going to be the will, the desire to win,” sophomore Alec Robin said. “We are going to have to fight through each routine. Everything counts. A fall will make the difference between who is holding a trophy at the end of the day.”
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