April 12, 2008
NORMAN, Okla. -- The No. 10 University of Oklahoma women's gymnastics squad punched its ticket to a fifth-straight national championship appearance with a second-place finish at the NCAA South Central Regional on Saturday at the Lloyd Noble Center. Top-seeded Alabama took home the regional title with a team score of 197.300, while the Sooners advanced with their runner-up finish (195.875).
Oklahoma was forced to watch the final rotation as spectators, knowing that Illinois would need a season-high 49.100 on beam in order to secure the second spot. The Fighting Illini posted a 48.65 as the Sooners moved to 25-1 on the year and more importantly, kept their season alive in securing a spot in the NCAA National Championships, held April 24-26 in Athens, Ga.
Following the meet, OU senior All-American Kiara Redmond-Sturms was honored as NCAA South Central Region Gymnast of the Year while OU's Stephanie Rempe was given the award of South Central Region Administrator of the Year as well.
"I am pretty disappointed with the final score," said head coach K.J. Kindler. "I feel like we are a much better team than we have showed in the last three weeks and performance wise, we have a lot more potential."
Opening the NCAA draw on bars, the Sooners surged to the lead after one rotation, closing the event with four straight scores of 9.8 or higher. McKinney, Texas, native Haley DeProspero keyed the run, scoring a 9.8 in her return to the bars line-up for the first time since March 22. Senior Caitlin Hinkis made her final routine at the Lloyd Noble Center a memorable one, following DeProspero with a season-high-tying 9.825 before OU closed with back-to-back 9.85s from Hollie Vise and Redmond-Sturms (third place) for a team score of 49.075 in the first rotation.
In the second rotation Oklahoma was forced to count a fall on beam, but finished with a pair of 9.825s from Vise and DeProspero, who both garnered Big 12 All-Conference accolades on the apparatus earlier this season. DeProspero entered Saturday night ranked fifth in the country on beam.
OU led Southeast Missouri State 97.575-97.025 through two rotations as the respective squads were the only two to compete on multiple events without a first or second round bye.
After spending the third rotation in the locker room with their first of two byes on the night, the Sooners returned to the arena floor in fourth place as Alabama (98.425) led both Illinois (97.825) and Boise State (97.700) at the halfway mark of the competition.
Whatever motivational tactics Big 12 Coach of the Year K.J. Kindler used in the locker room between events did the job, as OU came out on floor with a renewed sense of energy, scoring a 49.250 on the apparatus. All five routines the Sooners counted were 9.8 or higher, led by Redmond-Sturms' first-place-tying 9.925 from the anchor position. Kristin Smith, Kinder and Jackson burst out of the gates with scores of 9.85, 9.8 and 9.825.
Oklahoma also carded a 9.85 from Flanery as the Sooners (146.825) moved back on top of the three other squads that had completed three rotations (Boise State-145.400, ASU-145.375, SEMO-145.550).
The Sooners ended the night on vault with a team score of 49.050, spurred by Redmond-Sturms' third-place 9.9 from the final spot. Flanery led off with a 9.825 as Mary Mantle also had a strong effort with her 9.8 from the fifth position.
"True winners don't make excuses, they make adjustments," said senior Stephanie LoPiccolo. "While we are happy to be advancing, we know we must get back in the gym and correct these mistakes if we want to reach the goals we have set for ourselves."
OU is one of 12 squads advancing to the national championship. With a National Qualifying Score of 392.325, the Sooners will tentatively be placed in the afternoon session as the 10th seed. The top three teams from each of the preliminary sessions will advance to the NCAA Super Six Team Finals on Friday, April 25, with the individual finals commencing the following night.
"I don't feel that we have hit our potential yet this season," added Kindler. "So there is a lot of room for improvement and I think we would surprise a lot of people if we came out and did what I know we are capable of."