NORMAN, Okla. The University of Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team defends its conference crown Saturday, March 26, when it hosts the Big 12 Championships at the Lloyd Noble Center.
“I think we are going to have a barn-burner,” OU head coach Steve Nunno said. “Last year, we were 0-3 in the Big 12 going into the meet and no one expected us to win. This year, Nebraska, Iowa State and OU probably have the best teams they have ever had. All are ranked in the top 10 in the nation and Missouri has been coming on strong at the end. This could very well be the best Big 12 Championship meet in history.”
The Sooners (14-3), who have not lost inside the Lloyd Noble Center in 2005, won the Big 12 title last season by 0.025 points over Iowa State.
“We spent the week polishing our routines,” Nunno continued. “This week we really made an effort to elevate our game for the championship season. We had a scare early this week with Brittney Koncak tweaking a knee. So, that put everyone on edge, but we have Ashley Cooney back training all four events.”
Cooney, who has not completed a full meet since spraining an ankle Feb. 25, also has a title to defend.
The reigning conference vault champion will participate in her first all-around competition since suffering the injury. Cooney scored a 9.85 against Southern Utah, her first vault in three weeks, and has not scored below a 9.8 all season.
Senior Erin LaBarr leads the Sooners. The Bartlesville, Okla., native has performed 47 of a possible 48 routines (98 percent) this season and is singularly responsible for one-fifth of OU’s total points scored this season. An All-American last season, LaBarr aims to add a Big 12 Championship to her resume.
Cooney and LaBarr rank as the third and fourth best all-around competitors in the Big 12. LaBarr is the No. 1-ranked individual on uneven bars, averaging a 9.84.
Despite the attention Cooney and LaBarr will receive this weekend, the Sooners have set just one goal.
“We don’t have any individual expectations,” Nunno said. “Everyone has been focused on defending our title. If we perform at the high level we are capable of, the individual honors will come along.”
Oklahoma will begin on vault, as it did in 2004. Iowa State begins on bars, Nebraska on beam and Missouri on floor.
The 2005 Big 12 Gymnastics Championship begins at 7 p.m.
SOUTHERN UTAH RECAP
The University of Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team finished its regular season with a 196.025-195.925 win against Southern Utah.
“We hit 24 of 24 and didn’t miss a routine,” OU head coach Steve Nunno said. “There were a couple of sloppy landings on our first two rotationsbars and vaultbut we had a nice floor routine and clinched victory on beam.”
OU trailed Southern Utah by 0.1 points after the first rotation, but took the lead after vault (49.150) where sophomore Ashley Cooney returned to the lineup after a three-week absence.
“It was great to have Ashley back on vault,” Nunno continued. “I think she was the difference in the win. Without her, we might have missed a couple tenths that would have cost us the meet.”
Cooney suffered an ankle sprain during a floor routine against Iowa State on Feb. 25. The Plano, Texas, native returned to competitive action last week against LSU when she performed a bars routine.
“Ashley is coming back strong,” Nunno said. “She competed in the first two events and did an exhibition on beam. She didn’t do a floor routine, but she warmed-up a little. She’ll be ready to go next week at the Big 12 Championships.”
The Sooners’ floor routine netted a 49.0 while the Thunderbirds’ beam squad scored a 49.2 to tighten the overall score after three rotations.
“We were about a tenth ahead going into the final rotation,” Nunno said, “and it was neck-and-neck. We had to have everyone stick their routines to keep the lead and Caitlin Hinkis had a clutch performance that sealed our victory.”
Hinkis, the final Sooner competitor, ended the night with an impressive 9.85 routine. The freshman, who started the year as a bars specialist, has performed on beam in the last four meets, averaging a 9.78.
“It was good to go on the road and score above our overall average,” Nunno said. “I’m really proud of the girls for hitting all their routines. For being on the road during Spring Break, we looked really good.”
Oklahoma’s score was its best on the road this season and just the fourth above 196.
Sooners captured three individual titles as Brittney Koncak shared victory with SUU’s Molly Bauer on vault (9.85), Cooney won on bars (9.85) and Erin LaBarr won on floor (9.9).
Koncak and LaBarr shared second place in the all-around, finishing one tenth behind Southern Utah’s Leah Sakhitab (39.300).
“Coming away with a tight win on the road is great preparation for the Big 12s,” Nunno said. “It will be a tight competition and very exciting. I’m really proud of our 14-3 regular season and I can’t wait to get back in the gym next week.”
GYMINFO NATIONAL RANKINGS
(As of March 21, 2005)
1. Utah 197.02
2. LSU 197.01
3. UCLA 196.93
4. Nebraska 196.75
5. Alabama 196.74
6. Florida 196.685
7. Michigan 196.595
8. Georgia 196.52
9. Iowa State 196.23
10. Oklahoma 196.13
11. Penn State 195.685
12. Oregon State 195.575
13. Central Michigan 195.54
14. Brigham Young 195.445
15. Arkansas 195.43
16. Utah State 195.25
17. Southern Utah 195.155
18. Denver 195.15
T19. Arizona 195.07
T19. Kentucky 195.07
21. Auburn 195.025
22. Minnesota 195
23. Washington 194.875
24. Missouri 194.87
25. Arizona State 194.85
2004 BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIPS REVISITED
The University of Oklahoma won its first-ever Big 12 title, scoring 196.950 points. Behind the Sooners were No. 7 Iowa State (196.925), No. 14 Missouri (196.425) and No. 11 Nebraska (196.175).
Prior to the start of the Big 12, Oklahoma had captured five Big 8 titles with the last one coming in 1993 under Becky Switzer. In 2003, the Sooners enjoyed their highest finish under head coach Steve Nunno, placing second behind Nebraska.
On Saturday, the Sooners (14-9) scored in order a 49.175 on vault, 49.050 on uneven bars, 49.275 on balance beam and a 49.450 on the floor exercise. OU outscored the rest of the field on the balance beam and floor and won every individual event except for the balance beam.
“We started off on vault and were just hammering away,” said Nunno. “Then Ashley (Cooney) just nailed her routine for a 9.950 to win the event. It was a great start and a great competition overall and we are excited to win this first Big 12 Championship.”
Senior co-captain Kasie Tamayo showed why she was the best gymnast in the Big 12 after dominating the meet winning the all-around title, her sixth straight, with a 39.575. The Sacramento, Calif. native did not stop there, Tamayo went on to win the floor exercise with a 9.925 and the uneven bars with a 9.900. Tamayo also finished second on balance beam (9.900) and fourth on the vault (9.850). For her season long consistency, Tamayo was named the Big 12 Gymnast of the Year at the meet and Iowa State’ Janet Anson was named the Newcomer of the Year and K.J. Kindler (ISU) was named the Coach of the Year.
“Kasie was outstanding tonight and deserves every accolade that comes her way,” said Nunno. “I have said all year that she has been the model of consistency for this team and sets the example on the floor. She has been on fire all season only missing two routines all year and it has been incredible to watch her compete.”
Tamayo is just the second Sooner in school history to win more than two conference championships and joins Kelly Garrison (four-time national champion) who last did it in 1988. That year she swept the event titles for the second straight year. Tamayo is the first Sooner since Mariana Goncalves to win the conference honor, Goncalves was honored in the 2002 season.
Freshman Ashley Cooney also shined at the conference meet, winning the vault with a career-high 9.950. Cooney was tied with Missouri’s Alisha Robinson.
Entering the meet, the Sooners were winless in the regular season (0-3) losing close meets to all three of the Big 12’s participants. However, OU and ISU were the only teams that were ranked nationally in the top 20 in every team event.