• OU men trying for third straight conference title

It’s almost a given that Oklahoma wins the conference championship.

Since Mark Williams took over the men’s gymnastics team in 1999, the Sooners have failed to win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation only once, finishing second to California in 2004.

“It’s always a big deal to us,” Williams said. “We have a pretty good track record and we’re proud of it. It’s a championship that we try and win every year.”

The odds favor the Sooners again this year.

Other than OU, the conference features Nebraska, Air Force, California and Stanford. The third-ranked Sooners have faced all four teams in the regular season and beat each one. They topped Nebraska twice.

The meet will be an all day affair on California’s home floor at Berkeley.

“We’re probably looked at as the favorite because we’ve gone head-to-head with all of them and won,” Williams. “But going out to Berkeley might be a little different. We’re going to have to perform well.”

Going into it, already having swept the competition, what’s OU’s motivation?

The motivation is this: Although ranked third nationally, the Sooners still have a shot at securing a No. 1 seed at the NCAA preliminaries April 12 with a strong showing at the conference meet. Right now, Ohio State is on top, followed by Michigan.

Seedings are determined by a team’s average score, which factors in a team’s highest home score, two highest away scores, and its score at the conference meet, which is doubled. All that averaged together determines which team gets what seed.

“Because (the conference score) is doubled, that makes this a very important meet,” Williams said. “That’s why our guys really need to get up for this. I think come Saturday, they’ll be as ready as I can make them.”

Ohio State and Michigan are in the Big 10 Conference. They both can’t win so one will be eliminated from the chase for that No. 1 seed. Both teams have beaten OU this year.

The advantage of being No. 1 is that team gets to pick what events to start on.

Still, OU has won seven national titles, but they haven’t always been the top seed going in.

“I’ve always felt that we’d be comfortable if we were in the top three,” Williams said. “We don’t have to have the first pick, but it is nice to have a little more control over what you get to do. We’d prefer to have a little more control over our destiny.”

OU has won the last two national titles, but the Sooners’ national dominance took a hit this season when they lost to Ohio State earlier this month and to Michigan in January. They’ve also been without a pair of All-Americans in Jake Messina and Reed Pitts, who are finished for the year with injuries.

They still have Jonathan Horton, who is the returning conference floor and rings champ and high bar champ Chris Brooks. Williams expects Brian Carr to have a solid meet after finishing fourth on the pommel horse last year and second in 2004.

But the Sooners posted their highest team score in their final regular season meet with Iowa and Williams said his group is peaking at the right time.

“We definitely have more guys healthy than we did earlier in the year,” Williams said. “What we’re doing now is better than what we were doing earlier. I feel like we’re at our best right now.”

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