NORMAN — For two years, Michael Squires was the hunter. The Edmond native fought and clawed his way onto the Oklahoma men’s gymnastics team and up the ladder until he won a national championship on the rings last year.
“When you are at the bottom of the mountain looking up, it’s really easy to see where you need to go. When you’re at the top it’s hard to really challenge yourself, so trying to stay hungry is the toughest part. It’s really easy to say I’ve won so I don’t have to work as hard as I did to get here. But that’s not how I operate.”
Now, Squires returns for his junior year at OU. With an individual title under his belt, the same passion to win a championship may have subsided slightly. But it has been replaced with a hunger that may be just as strong.
“I am always trying to push myself,” Squires said. “Now my mindset is more of trying to leave a legacy at OU. I want people to remember me as one of the best ring guys they’ve ever had at OU. One of the strongest guys they’ve ever seen in the sport. So, I’m trying to put myself in the realm of Brandon Wynn and some of the top guys in the country.”
So far, Squires and the Sooners have gotten off to an almost perfect start. They began the regular season with a convincing victory at the Rocky Mountain Open on the campus of the Air Force Academy last weekend. The 443.150 points they posted was enough to vault them from No. 2 up to No. 1 in this week’s rankings.
Oklahoma earned the highest team scores of the competition on each event and had the highest individual score on five of the six events, including junior Alec Robin on floor, junior Sergey Resnick on pommel and parallel bars, Squires on still rings and senior Raymond White on vault. In addition, junior Danny Berardini also took the all-around title with an 86.950.
“This is probably one of the best Rocky Mountain we’ve had since I’ve been head coach,” OU coach Mark Williams said. “Coming out with such a high score, putting us at No. 1. So I was very happy with that and the results from the first competition. And yet, some of it is it’s a little too early to know everything.”
The top-ranked Sooners will open their home portion of their schedule at 5 tonight when they take on No. 6 Air Force at McCasland Fieldhouse. Williams wants his gymnasts to prove that last weekend was not a fluke.
“I want us to continue as far as improvements,” Williams said. “And show that it wasn’t just a one-shot deal, that we went up there and had the meet of our lives the first competition out of the gate.”
Berardini, who hails from Lake Forest, Ill., doesn’t believe the team’s mindset will change now that they are sitting on top of the rankings.
“I am not sure if it’s too big of a deal right now being No. 1,” Berardini said. “A lot of it’s very important at the end of the season. I kind of like being behind. I kind of like being the underdog. When you are the underdog you have nothing to lose. You are just chasing that top team. Either way, us being No. 1 right now, it’s not going to change how we perform.”
If the Sooners end the year at No. 1, it will end a string a three consecutive seasons in which they have been the runner-up. That includes coming up short to Michigan last year
Squires said that is not what the Sooners gymnastics program is about.
“Every year we’ve kind of accepted that second place isn’t what we’re striving for,” Squires said. “For many teams that’s an awesome finish. This year we feel like with the guys that we’ve gotten in, we have the ability to win this year. We’re not just trying to place. We’re trying to win. We know we can compete with Michigan at their best if we do our best.”
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