The Oklahoma women's gymnastics team added a major face to its program with the addition of coaching legend Steve Nunno. Nunno, who has coached American teams on the international and Olympic levels, will serve as co-head coach this year along with Becky Switzer. He will take over full-time next year when longtime OU coach Switzer retires after 18 years at the helm. This season, though, Nunno returns after being an assistant with the women's team from 1983-85.

"At the present time, this is an exciting opportunity for me," said Nunno, who tutored the great U.S. gymnast Shannon Miller. "Since the last time I was here-some 15 to 16 years ago-I have come full circle and being back at OU, I feel I've come home."

"Compared to my last stint at Oklahoma," said Nunno, whose squad returns four letterwinners and added four newcomers, "I believe this team has a tremendous amount of talent."

"Although it's a small team, we do have a stet group of international gymnasts. These gymnasts are the most experienced on the team, having competed around the world, and bring leadership to the squad. Plus, it gives the team a nice mix and benefits everyone."

Leading the way for the Sooners is a trio of Brazilian stars: sophomores Patricia Aoki and Leticia Ishii and junior Mariana Goncalves. All three hail from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and expected to lead the 2001 team.

Goncalves, the lone junior on the squad, recorded the highest bar average (9.861) for the Sooners last season and earned her best all-around score (39.000) at the Big 12 Championships. "She's had her best preseason to date," said Nunno. "Mariana looks very strong in the all-around. She has a lot of potential this season and is probably the classiest gymnast on the team. She performs with eloquence, personality and confidence."

Ishii is hoping to continue her success after an outstanding freshman campaign. The all-around talent claimed four A/A titles in 2000 including one (Feb. 20 against Air Force) where she set a school record with a total of 39.650. She has been ranked as high as No. 8 nationally in the all-around. "Leticia is like a diamond in the rough. Talent-wise on the team, there is no one better. However, she's coming off several injuries and might be shaken a little when the season starts."

The final Brazilian product, Aoki, was the only freshman to compete in every competition last season. She recorded a first-place finish on the balance beam (9.825) March 11 against Ohio State. "Patricia has a lot of potential. Hopefully, her progression will lead her to the very top of the all around. She has a huge arsenal of skills and a great attitude toward the sport."

Back to the American natives, redshirt freshman Leah Mueller seems ready to start her Oklahoma career. "She's like a raging bull, waiting to come out of a cage. She's anxious to get out and contribute to the overall success of the team."

As for the newcomers, Sacremento, Calif. product Kasie Tamayi appears to have the most promise. "She has the potential to be one of the most talented freshmen in the NCAA," said Switzer. "She's a classy gymnast who already looks like a verteran. We are looking at her to fill the some gaps on the team."

Carla DeMartini, from Petaluma, Calif., is another freshman who could make some noise. "Carla has a lot explosiveness. We are looking for her to come up with some big scores in a number of events," said Nunno.

Finally, there's Sarah Leis and Stacey Mardock. Leis, from Suffield, Ct., is one the coaching staff will be keeping a close eye on. "Sarah is still developing. We are confident she will become a strong and complete athlete. We look for her to be a big contributor in due time." Mardock, a native of New Braunfels, Texas, has battled numerous injuries over the past year, including a stress fracture, that have put her behind schedule. "Her injuries caused her to bypass her preseason workouts," said Buwick-Switzer. "Hopefully, she can return to form during the course of the season."

The Sooners hit the road for their first eight gymnastics meets including stops in San Jose, Calif., Berkeley, Calif., and Gainesville, Fla., before finally hosting Missouri on Feb. 25. The 2001 schedule also includes competition against Arizona, Florida, and, of course, Big 12 rivals Nebraska and Iowa State. All four finished last season ranked in the top 20 nationally. Oklahoma will have the edge when it hosts the Big 12 Championships, March 23-24, at Lloyd Noble Center.