LOS ANGELES, Calif., - Oklahoma's Erin LaBarr and Tiffany Willin competed in the individual event finals at the 2004 NCAA Championships at Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus on Saturday, April 17. LaBarr, a junior, tied for sixth place with her 9.875 performance on the uneven bars. The freshman Willin capped off a successful first season at OU by finishing in seventh place with a 9.813 average on the vault.
Each competitor on the vault had two opportunities to impress the judges and both scores were averaged for a final tally. Willin made the most of both her chances by vaulting to a 9.800 and then landing a 9.825 on her second performance. Willin qualified for Saturday's event by tying her career-high of 9.900 and finishing in the top four of the first session during Thursday's event finals. Alabama's Ashley Miles took home the vault title with a 9.944 final score.
"First off, Thursday was amazing to stick my landing like I did because I was unable to do that all year it seemed," said Willin. "It was an honor to be an All-American after tying my highest score and it is especially sweet since OU has not had one in 15 years. Today, it was not so much nervous energy fueling me but I was just really excited and figured I had nothing to lose and gave it everything I had. This gives me more confidence next year in everything not just the vault. I also think this gives the rest of the team more confidence in what we can achieve because we had such a great season on all levels."
Willin is just the fourth Sooner in the program's history to finish the season as an All-American on the vault. Amy Priest (1985), Kelly Garrison (1988) and Cassie Frey (1988) previously were honored and are the only other individuals in school history to garner such high accolades in the sport on the apparatus.
"Its excellent for Tiffany to beat out a couple of great vaulters by hitting both of her vaults," said Oklahoma head coach Steve Nunno. "Today showed why she was a three-time national champion at the junior level and the event finals gives her a lot of experience. She has now established herself among the best in the NCAA and I am really proud of Tiffany for being able to handle the pressure of finals and I believe it made her a better gymnast. She will provide three more exciting years for Sooner fans."
LaBarr followed Willin with a solid performance on an event in which she was the Big 12 Champion in 2003. She qualified for Saturday's event by posting a 9.900 on the bars and finishing in the top four of the first session during Thursday's event finals. LaBarr posted a solid 9.875 score to tie her for sixth place and finish the season as Oklahoma's fifth All-American on the uneven bars in its history. Garrison was an All-American on bars in 1987 and 1988 while Frey matched Garrison in 1987 and received accolades in 1989 as well.
"I think this is amazing," said LaBarr about her finish in the bars finals. "Out of the thirteen girls that made finals, nine of them were olympians and national team members and it is a great feeling to be among the nation's best with that kind of competition."
Michigan's Elise Ray won the bars with a near perfect 9.975 while Arizona State's Ashley Kelly won the balance beam and North Carolina's Courtney Bumpers tied Miles as the floor champion.
"Erin actually had a bigger dismount and we waited to see if she needed it or not to finish high," said Nunno. "But we stuck with the routine that got her in the finals and she did another clean routine and stuck her dismount to finish among the nation's elite. We are extremely proud of Erin because she was a walk-on when she arrived at OU and here she is three years later a First Team All-American on the bars and second team member in the all-around."
The Sooners now have 14 All-Americans in the record books, Garrison was a seven-time All-American, Frey won on four occassions and Priest's 1985 performance on vault was her lone honor.
"Those two were great today," added Nunno. "I am so proud of not just them but this whole team for what they have accomplished this season. We certainly are going to miss our seniors for they have contributed a lot to this team's success over the years. Winning the Big 12 and Regionals this season is just the start of things to expect from this program and I think we have a lot to look forward to next year. My hat goes off to all the girls and my coaching staff for helping make this season one to remember."
The Sooners finished 20-13 in 2004 and the Big 12 and West Regional Champions will enter next season with two all-americans returning and only lose three seniors: Kasie Tamayo (Second Team All-American on beam and in the all-around), Leah Mueller and Karina Agafanova.