LOS ANGELES, Calif. - In its first appearance at the NCAA Nationals since 2001, the University of Oklahoma women's gymnastics team posted a 195.750 score to finish fifth in Session I of the 2004 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships hosted by UCLA. Ahead of No. 5 OU was No. 9 Stanford (196.850) and No. 6 Florida (196.850) who tied for first, while No. 2 Georgia landed in third (196.775), No. 11 Nebraska in fourth (196.150) and No. 19 Iowa in sixth (194.800). The top three teams advanced to the team finals on Friday, April 16 at 9 p.m. (CST).
"We were really on a roll going six for six on the balance beam and hitting every floor routine and we were in the hunt halfway through the meet," said Oklahoma head coach Steve Nunno. "Then we only had one mistake on the vault, which we did not have to count and we were in contention with the bars left. Unfortunately we had to have a perfect performance on bars and every girl was tried their hardest to make that happen. This team had a great season and put their hearts into the meet today. They did an outstanding job of representing the University of Oklahoma throughout the year."
The Sooners started things off on the balance beam and recorded a 48.600 led by senior Kasie Tamayo's 9.800. After one rotation, the Sooners were in fourth place among teams with one event completed. OU trailed Stanford (Vault-49.050), Nebraska (Floor-48.900) and Iowa (Bars-48.725) while Florida and Georgia had byes. Junior Erin LaBarr (9.775) and sophomore Kristen Cox (9.700) also contibuted solid scores on OU's first apparatus.
After a bye in the second rotation, the Sooners returned to action on the floor exercise. After two sets, all six teams completed two events and OU sat fifth with a team total of 97.825 ahead of Iowa (96.525). Georgia was first with a 98.450 and was followed by Stanford (98.400), Nebraska (98.150) and Florida (98.125). Sophomore Katie Hostler was the Sooners high floor competitor with a 9.875 and LaBarr was second with a 9.850. Tamayo and freshman Ashley Cooney posted identical 9.825s to propel OU to its 49.225 tally on the floor.
Trailing first place Georgia by 0.575, OU tied its third highest score on the vault with a 49.200. Yet another freshman stepped up for the Sooners, as Tiffany Willin tied her career-high by sticking her landing for a 9.900. OU counted five scores of 9.8 or higher on the apparatus, including Tamayo and Cooney's 9.850 tallies and identical 9.800's from LaBarr and Cox. After three events and four rotations, OU 's total stood at 147.025, good for third place ahead of Iowa's 145.850 and behind Stanford (147.375) and Nebraska (147.275). With only two events completed, Georgia and Florida rounded things off with a 98.450 and 98.125 respectively.
OU sat out the fifth rotation before finishing the competition off on of its best events, the uneven bars. After the fifth rotation, Nebraska topped the field with a 196.150 and Iowa followed with a 194.800 as the only teams with four events finished. That left Georgia (147.800), Florida (147.475) and Stanford (147.375) ahead of the Sooners with one event left.
On the bars the Sooners having to count a 9.275 giving them a event total of 48.725. Despite a 9.900 from LaBarr and three 9.850s from Cooney, Tamayo and senior Leah Mueller, the Sooners finished fifth.
Two Sooners, Willin and LaBarr, finished in the top four of each event and qualify for the event finals on Saturday, April 17 at 9 p.m. (CST). The duo also garnered First Team All-America honors. Willin qualified for her performance on the vault with the third highest score in the session and LaBarr owned the second highest on the uneven bars. Labarr also claimed second team All-America honors in the all-around (39.325) and joined by teammate Kasie Tamayo, who earned second team All-America honors in the all-around (39.325) and beam (9.800).
The Sooners have not had an All-American on an individual event since 1989 when Casie Frey was honored on the uneven bars. The last and only individual National Champion in OU's 24 years of collegiate competition was Kelly Garrison in 1988 (all-around, uneven bars and balance beam). Garrison was also the 1987 all-around National Champion.
"Tiffany Willin was a three-time vault champion before she came here and we kind of thought she was going to have an opportunity to do well today and qualify," said Nunno. "Erin LaBarr was the Big 12 Champion on the bars last year and she was due and could not have stepped up at a better time. LaBarr and Tamayo both came through when the team needed them most and I can't say enough about them. Kasie finished off a wonderful career today and we will definitely miss her and Leah Mueller."