April 1, 2008
NORMAN, Okla. - Head Coach K.J. Kindler wasn't the only one that had trouble sleeping following OU's remarkable come-from-behind victory in last Saturday's Big 12 Championship.
I will also admit to losing some sleep, contemplating exactly what makes the '08 Sooners squad so special.
Three days later, all I can conclude is that it's neither the 21-0 record nor OU's first conference title since 2004.
It's not the 31-1 mark in the last 32 regular-season matchup's or the 43 event titles on the year.
It's not having both the Big 12 Gymnast and Coach of the Year sporting the crimson and cream and a USAG Hall of Famer to boot.
Truth be told, it started much earlier than January 4th when the Sooners won the season-opening Cancun Classic--their first of 13 straight meets.
It goes back to football tailgate get-togethers, pumpkin carving contests and Christmas gift exchange.
It's the games at the airport during three-hour delays, the sparkly banner the team created for the USA Special Olympics Gymnastics team headed to compete in Beijing, and the 14 gymnasts-turned-carpenters volunteering their Saturday mornings at Habitat for Humanity.
It's visions of medical school, nursing school and master's degrees, exemplifying that fact that success for this squad won't be measured come NCAA's.
Yet they have done it all with a certain degree of humility, preferring to let their gymnastics speak for itself.
In the me-first world we live in today, it's refreshing to be surrounded by a group of athletes competing strictly for the sequined OKLAHOMA on the front of their leotards.
Everyone surrounding the team knows that senior All-American Kiara Redmond-Sturms is hardly afraid of speaking her mind and the self-proclaimed "filter" the Los Angeles, Calif., native uses when speaking to outsiders of the program.
Yet imagine the frustration of the media covering last week's Big 12 Championship when trying to set up a one-on-one battle with her and Nebraska's Emily Parsons-- the then-reigning Big 12 Gymnast of the Year.
You can only word the same question a certain amount of ways before giving up when the response is the same regardless of how the question is posed.
"Any individual accolades are just icing on the cake. I'm just here to do whatever I can for our squad to take home the team title," the surfer-turned-gymnast answered time and time again.
As cliché as her response sounds, I've been around her long enough to know she's not bluffing.
Who could fault her if she wanted to bask in the limelight of her 43 individual titles in '08, her conference-record seven Big 12 Gymnast of the Week honors or being the only conference athlete to garner All-Big 12 regular season honors on all four events.
Instead, the 5-1 dynamo chooses to bring up teammate Hollie Vise's career-high bars routine, Haley DePropspero's event-winning 9.9 on beam or Melanie Root's career-best vault when Oklahoma needed it most. Give her enough time and she'll tell you how vital a role every single Sooner played in securing OU's second Big 12 title and first for any member of the current squad.
It's a credence that has been instilled by three of the most passionate coaches in the country - taking a squad that finished 36-34 (.514) in the two seasons before their arrival in Norman and turning them into one of the NCAA's finest.
By identifying individual strengths, they have molded a cohesive unit built on teamwork, diligence and resiliency.
They have triumphed at home and persevered on the road. They have left victorious with large leads and snuck out of hostile road trips with last-routine upsets.
Only time will tell where this squad ranks with some of the Big 12's best, but regardless of the final record, they have set a standard of excellence for OU gymnastics for many years to come and in the process made themselves known on the national stage.
Even if they don't always like talking about it.
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Phillip Rogers - OU Women's Gymnastics Sports Information Director