First Annual Cancun
Friday, Jan. 2, 2004 | 7 p.m. CST
No. 13 Oklahoma
No. 12 Iowa
No. 15 Washington
Texas Woman's University
The Oklahoma women’s gymnastics program begins the 2004 season with the first annual Cancun Gymnastics Classic which will be held in Cancun, Mexico, and features three top 15 teams in the GymInfo Preseason Coaches Poll.
"Our team is very excited about this first meet," said Oklahoma head coach Steve Nunno. "We expect to have fun in Cancun but our focus will obviously be on the compeition. It will be a great event with a competitive field."
The Iowa Hawkeyes are ranked one spot ahead of the No. 13 Sooners and return four seniors to their 2004 lineup. Perhaps the best of that group is Alexis Maday who finished fourth on the uneven bar at the 2003 NCAA Championships and is is a two-time All-American. The Hawkeyes won five meets last season, including a perfect 3-0 mark in Big Ten dual meets under head coach Mike Lorenzen (fifth year). Those results gave Iowa their first ever appearance in the NCAAs.
No. 15 Washington features two individuals that competed in last year's NCAAs, juniors Carly Dokendorf and Tacia LaBatte both competed as all-arounders. As a whole, the Huskies finished the year 21-11 and just barely missed qualifying for the NCAAs. Head coach Bob Levesque, in his 13th year, is looking to start the season strong in Cancun and get his squad into position to qualify for the NCAAs.
The lone Division II participant in the Cancun Classic, Texas Woman's University, might be one of the more storied programs amongest the four squads. TWU under head coach Frank Kudlac has won seven national titles since 1992, including most recently a defeat over Air Force in the 2003 USAG National Championships. Also in 2003, the Pioneers produced nine All-Americans. In 2004, TWU will have to replace seven graduating seniors. This year's squad features two seniors, five juniors, five sophomores and six freshmen.
The Sooners finished fourth last year in the NCAA Regionals, just narrowly missing the NCAA Finals. This year they hope to build off last year and combine young talent with experienced veterans as the formula for success.
“Our first meet in Cancun is definitely getting this team excited for the season ahead. Our schedule this year is the toughest we have ever had. By the end of the second week of January we will have faced four teams that were ranked in the top 10 from last year’s rankings,” said Nunno.
This season OU comes in with a lot of optimism as the Sooners feature a deep roster full of athletes capable of competing in every event.
“Our team has a tremendous amount of depth across the board,” said Oklahoma head coach Steve Nunno. “Our coaching staff feels that this team already has the potential to be better than last year’s team. They have yet to prove themselves,”
added Nunno. “But they will have plenty of chances during the season with a very tough schedule. The team captains have done a great job keeping everyone motivated throughout this intense preseason.”
The Sooners return three seniors this year including Karina Agafonova, Leah Mueller and Kasie Tamayo. Mueller and Tamayo will serve as co-captains. This duo has been a permanent fixture in the OU rotation over the past three years.
Tamayo is capable of competing in the all-around and specialized on the bars and beam last season. She took first- place honors on the beam twice last season. She continues to be one of the most consistent competitors for Nunno and the Sooners.
Mueller returns for her final season at OU, looking to finish her career on top.
Last season, Mueller suffered a torn patella tendon in the preseason. She returned to action later in the season, participating exclusively on the bars. In years past, Mueller had recorded solid scores in every event.
The junior class will feature Nicole Gause and Erin LaBarr. LaBarr is a four event gymnast who posted solid scores in last year’s Big 12 Championship. Gause recorded new career highs in her three events last season. This season she will look to be a big contributor again for the Sooners on the vault, beam and floor exercise.
The sophomore class for OU in 2004 includes some gymnasts who had success last season. That starts with Tara Anderson who has been a bar specialist. She will play a big role in the success of the Sooners on more than one event this year.
Kristen Cox will also contend on all events, with her specialty coming on the vault.
Katie Hostler will return this season to compete on the floor exercise and the vault.
Finally Melissa Smith rounds out the second-year class and she will compete on the bars and the beam.
Four newcomers join OU’s roster this season as Brittney Koncak, Elizabeth Tandy, Jillian Tinsley and Tiffany Willin will look to make an immediate impact on the squad.
Koncak, a McQuenney, Texas, native, is a member of the U.S. Elite National Team. Koncak has competed internationally in recent years and will come to OU as the most highly decorated recruit since Kelly Garrison and Chelle Stack.
Willin, a Cape Coral, Fla., native, is a three-time junior national vault champion and a level 10 gymnast. The vault was one of the weaker events last season and Willin should provide some depth on that apparatus.
Tandy, a Jacksonville, Fla., native, will give the Sooners depth in all four events.
Tinsley, a Highland Village, Texas, native, will feature her talents primarily on the floor and vault events.
OKLAHOMA RANKED NO. 13
The Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team, coming off an 18-11 season, was voted No. 13 in the GymInfo Coaches’ preseason top-25 poll. All four teams from the Big 12 made the list, as Nebraska was No. 8, Iowa State No. 16 and Missouri finished off the list at No. 25.
UCLA was voted No. 1 receiving 27 first place votes followed by Georgia (eight first place votes), Utah (one) and Michigan (one).
Last season, UCLA was one of the teams OU defeated en route to their seven meet winning streak, at that time the Bruins were also ranked No. 1.
“This is one of the highest preseason rankings for us,” said Oklahoma head coach Steve Nunno. “Obviously we would like it to be higher, but we will have to earn that right. We face a very tough schedule this season, probably the toughest since I have been here. I think we will be able to prove how good we are especially in the first two meets when we face a lot of top ranked competition in Cancun and at the Super Six in Alabama.”
9. Arizona St.
11. Oregon St.
16. Iowa State
19. Penn State
20. North Carolina
23. Ohio State
*Bold, Italics indicate OU opponents.
A SEASON AGO
After finishing second at the Big 12 Championships, the Sooners just missed out on a berth to the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive season, finishing fourth in the South Central NCAA Championships Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Sooners were narrowly edged (.05 of point) by Auburn (196.350) and Central Michigan (196.350) whom finished behind regional champion Alabama (197.550).
OU was trailing heading into the final rotation on beam. The Sooners put up a valiant effort and scored a solid 49.275, but it was just short of what they need to move into second place.
“The girls battled back tooth and nail,” said Nunno. “They pulled us back in the mix and they really made their fans and coaches proud. Unfortunately, Central Michigan and Auburn were good enough to hold us off. I have to give them a lot of credit.”
*BEST IN OU HISTORY
Last year’s squad set itself apart from Sooners of the past. The Sooners broke every team scoring record except vault last season. They also became the first team in OU history to score 197 points in five straight meets. Add their national ranking No. 7 (highest position in OU history going into regionals), a seven-meet win streak, an undefeated home season and two broken individual records and this squad made history in several ways.