Oct. 24, 2001

NORMAN, Okla. - After a 2001 season which saw Oklahoma's women's gymnastics team reach the NCAA National Championships for the first time since 1989 and just the third time ever, the Sooners are looking to build on their 10th-place national finish and continue their ascent into the nation's elite. The squad is in the midst of fall workouts and head coach Steve Nunno is excited about the rapidly approaching season.

"Practices have been going very well and the last few weeks will go a long way in determining our success this year," said Nunno. "The girls are learning new skills in every event and we're getting better as a team with each day that passes. We can't wait for competition to begin."

The team will be led by senior Mariana Goncalves and junior Leticia Ishii. Goncalves earned All-Big 12 honors on the floor exercise a year ago, while Ishii won all-conference honors in two events, the all-around and floor exercise. Both gymnasts are natives of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and also excel in the classroom, earning Academic All-Big 12 recognition in 2001.

"Mariana is on fire and she is really developing a lot of new skills," said Nunno. "We're expecting this to be her best year ever. Leticia has been battling a minor wrist injury, but she's getting healthier by the day and should be ready to help lead us soon."

Sophomores Kasie Tamayo and Leah Mueller were major contributors on last year's squad and, with a year of experience under their belts, are expected to be key elements in the team's success.

"Kasie was one of our best all-around gymnasts last year as a freshman," said Nunno, "and she continues to look fantastic. She has been increasing her skill difficulty a great deal. Our freshman class is developing very nicely, as well."

A talented group of freshmen and newcomers join the Sooner fold and hopes are high for a return trip to the National Championships, to be held this year in Tuscaloosa, Ala., April 18-20. The Sooners open their season on Jan. 4 at the Maui Invitational and welcome a number of talented teams to the Lloyd Noble Center for home meets, including Ohio State, Florida, Iowa State, Arizona and Texas Woman's University.