Jan. 12, 2001

The 2001 season opener was a series of firsts for the Sooners. Olympic veteran Steve Nunno made his OU head coaching debut on January 12 along with five Sooner freshman as Oklahoma toppled Texas Woman's University with a season-opening record score of 194.025. TWU finished the evening with 189.300.

The Sooners overcame a dismal uneven bar warm-up to secure a stunning 48.975 team total on their first event, the uneven bars.

Redshirt freshman Leah Mueller performed a flawless Tkatchev and Gienger in her first competitive performance in nearly three years. Mueller was sidelined in her final two Elite seasons with injury, as well as redshirting her first year at OU.

"We were having some major problems in bar warm-ups, getting used to TWU's bars, which aren't like the bars we train on," coach Nunno reported. "Leah's routine really got things going. She hadn't caught one release in warm-ups and she just went out there and nailed her set. That was fun to watch. That big reverse hecht was a confidence builder, not only for Leah, but for the whole team."

Also performing a two-release bar set, junior Mariana Goncalves, who earned a 9.875, the Sooners' second-highest score of the night on the event.

On vault, where new rules average a gymnast's two vault scores, making consistency critical, OU continued to rock despite a last-minute line-up change. Sophomore Patricia Aoki, who struggled in warm-ups, was replaced by freshman Sarah Leis, who executed a brilliant layout Yurchenko. "Sarah performed the best vault I'd ever seen her do," Nunno said. "She really came through for us."

The Sooners stalled on floor, where three of the six competitors made major errors, but OU's top three athletes-Mueller, Aoki and sophomore Leticia Ishii-all nailed their routines, earning 9.700 or above. Ishii topped the event standings with a 9.825.

Ending its night on the balance beam, OU relied on freshman Stacey Mardock to seal their victory with a 9.800. "Stacey came through with a great anchor performance," Nunno said, "especially considering that two days ago it didn't even look like she would compete."

Until that final rotation, Ishii was having the "meet of her life" according to Nunno, scoring a 9.725 on vault, 9.900 on bars and 9.825 on floor, before bouncing off beam on a layout step-out.

"She never misses that," Nunno said. "She didn't do exactly what she wanted to, but I think she showed off her potential to be right up there with country's top all-arounders."

Despite the miss, Ishii led a Sooner sweep of the all-around, scoring a 38.825 to top Goncalves (38.600) and Mueller (38.550). Goncalves and Mueller also struggled, with Goncalves missing her final floor pass and Mueller counting a beam fall.

The Sooners' fourth all-arounder, Kasie Tamayo, was the "best freshman on the floor" according to Nunno. Tamayo rocked the Sooner's final event, the balance beam, earning a meet-high 9.925.

"All of our all-arounders had major mistakes on one event," Nunno said. "Without those unusual errors-they're hitting these skills every day in practice or we wouldn't be doing them-they would have all scored in the 39-range. I'm very happy with that. We weren't holding anything back. Most of our girls had 10.4 start values on beam. We're doing some big gymnastics.

"They were a little tired coming of the holiday break and they're not used to competing yet," said Nunno. "They were actually a little too pumped up before this meet and I gathered the troops together and told them that the point of training is to train like you compete, not come out and change modes in competition. That really seemed to calm them down. You always want to do better but I think this is where we want to be now."

The Sooners, who were ranked 21st in the pre-season coaches' poll, are likely to move up in the national standings after this weekend's debut but Nunno is more concerned about effort than rank.

"I don't know what other people expect from the team," Nunno said after his squad's debut. "I can't be concerned with that. I know what my expectation is and what my girls' expectations are: we expect to go to the national championships. I think our opener puts us in that [top] group. We didn't have a perfect meet and we know we can do better. I think we're capable of a 195, 196 [score] right now, and we're only going to get better."

"If you look at where we were two months ago, I mean only three girls were healthy enough to be out on the floor [training hard]. I'm proud of how they've come along."

The Sooners first home meet isn't until February 25, when they will take on Big 12 rival Missouri. "Thats OK," Nunno says of the delayed home opener. "That gives us time to really gel. By that time I think we'll be able to put on quite a show for the fans in Norman."