Character. Commitment. Confidence.
These three words serve as the mantra for Oklahoma men’s gymnastics, a team that has proved itself one of the most consistent programs of any sport in the nation. Entering his 15th year at the helm of the Sooners, head coach Mark Williams has his 2014 squad's sights set on excellence.
“Our goal is going to be to compete and win the conference and national championships,” Williams said. “In order to do that I feel like in the regular season we have to establish a fairly consistent pattern of competing well.”
The Sooners will look to earn their 21st conference championship and 12th under Williams in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) after cruising to the conference title last season. OU went on to finish second at the NCAA Championships, earning its 13th-straight top-three finish after coming up just short to Michigan in the team finals.
The Wolverines and Sooners will likely again battle for the title this season and are currently ranked first and second, respectively, in the preseason coaches poll.
“We’re looking at a team that needs to score 440 points or more if we expect to be in the hunt and keep up with Michigan,” Williams predicted. “There are things we’ll learn along the way and hopefully add more difficulty as season goes on in order to do so.”
OU will certainly not be without weapons. Oklahoma returns seven All-Americans to the lineup, including the 2013 still rings national champion, Michael Squires, and Alec Robin, a three-time All-American in the all-around, vault and high bar.
Joining this team this season are six freshmen including Allan Bower, Lee Grogan, Thao Hoang, Alex Powarzynski, Reese Rickett and Colin Van Wicklen.
On floor, OU will look to sophomore All-American Kanji Oyama and veteran senior Raymond White. Freshman Colin Van Wicklen, a two-time U.S. Junior National Team member who took seventh on floor at the 2013 P&G Championships, will also look to contribute.
White will also add experience on pommel horse and will be joined by junior returning All-American Michael Reid. Reid competed on pommel in 11 of OU’s 12 meets last season with a career high score of 15.400.
In 2013, Squires won Oklahoma's first rings title since Jonathan Horton in 2008, taking first at the individual event championships for the program’s fifth still rings title. A former walk-on, Squires has added to his routine and is looking for a repeat performance.
The Sooners return two vault All-Americans in Robin and Presten Ellsworth while on parallel bars another All-American, Danny Berardini, will challenge for a national title.
Rounding out the events, Ethan Jose and Robin each claimed All-America honors on high bar while Will Clement is the reigining MPSF champion in the event.
“I think these are guys that are very interested in following the plan that we give them and understand the process,” Williams said. “I think they all understand what we’re trying to do this year and they understand the challenges, particularly competing against the defending national champion on their home floor. We’ll need to work harder than anyone else to upset them in April.”
OU beings its season on the road at Air Force in the annual Rocky Mountain Open, an event the Sooners have won each of the last 14 seasons.
The Sooners will host their home opener on Saturday, Jan. 18, against Air Force and will host additional home meets against Iowa on Feb. 1 before hosting Stanford on Feb. 8, in a battle of two top-five teams.
OU will also host Nebraska on March 9 on Senior Day, then will play host to the MPSF Championships on March 29 in the hopes of taking its third consecutive conference title. Individual and season tickets to all home meets can be purchased here.
Owners of eight national titles, Oklahoma will strive for number nine when the season concludes at the NCAA Championships on the campus of the University of Michigan from April 10-12 in Ann Arbor, Mich.