NORMAN, Okla. -- Four seniors will be honored following No. 1 Oklahoma's final regular season home meet Sunday at McCasland Field House. Each of the four has overcome trials and experienced great success as they've sought to become a better gymnast and person as a Sooner.
In the last three seasons, Oklahoma has claimed two conference titles and three NCAA runner-up finishes. This year, OU has been ranked No. 1 all eight weeks of the regular season. With just two regular season meets left, including this Sunday's matchup against Nebraska, before the postseason, Presten Ellsworth, Ethan Jose, Stanton Rehkemper and Raymond White have built up their careers to this final month, their last as members of a storied OU program.
As White explained and each of his three teammates echoed, "We’re more than just a team; we’re a family."
Presten Ellsworth almost didn't make it to the University of Oklahoma. Committed to Nebraska out of high school, Ellsworth switched to the Sooners after a signing day snafu and a late scholarship opening brought the Allen, Texas, native to Norman. It has been, to say the least, mutually beneficial. Named the 2013 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Gymnast of the Year after winning the conference parallel bars title, Ellsworth has stepped into a team captain role, helping to lead the Sooners to the top spot in the nation this year.
"More than anything, what I have gained are the relationships and the friendships that will forever be cherished," Ellsworth said. "There’s nothing more I could ask for. Everything happens for a reason and I’d never take it for granted."
An All-American on vault, Ellsworth has seen both personal and program success during his time at OU. He credits the day-to-day program and sacrifices each member of the team makes for establishing the tradition of excellence found during his four years and beyond.
"The mental toughness that Mark builds in us every day, waking up at 5:30 all four years of our college career, not too many people can say that they do that," Ellsworth commented. "All in all it’s the strength, the self-discipline, the self-motivation that Mark instills in us so that we can hit our peak performance at the right time."
Ethan Jose's time at Oklahoma began as "a disappointment." After not making the team out of high school, Jose trained with the OU club team hoping to eventually gain a roster spot. At times, it was hard to stay focused and motivated to keep chasing his dream.
Yet the following season Jose was given a spot on the roster and competed in eight meets during the year. Then amazingly, in just his second year of competition last season, Jose earned All-America status on high bar. His dedication had reaped rewards.
"It just goes to show that if you're willing to put your mind to it and put in the hard work you can be everything you want to be," Jose said. "Last year I was an All-American which was a dream, now being team captain it’s been another dream. It's great seeing the progression these last four years."
When his career is over, Jose plans to go to graduate and medical school to eventually become an orthopedic surgeon. But first, Jose is looking for another conference title and that elusive national championship.
"I think the planning by Mark, he really knows how to set a good schedule and keep us on track," Jose said. "We get to NCAAs and it’s automatic for us, we don’t have to think about it because we’ve done the preparation and everything we need to. His coaching and planning are the key points in our success."
It would take more than fractured vertebrae for Stanton Rehkemper to quit.
His sophomore year, two stress fractures hindered but did not stop Rehkemper. While he did have to give up floor, his emphasis concentrated on his other event, high bar. Two seasons later as a senior, Rehkemper is ranked No. 10 in the nation on the event and has competed at the anchor position in the event for the Sooners.
"It’s unbelievable," Rehkemper said of his time at OU. "We’ve been told that the name on the front means more than the name on the back, so really we’re just representing our university and it’s great to go out there. We have a good time, cheer each other on no matter what the outcome. We put it all out on the floor.
"I’ve loved it. It’s been fun and I’m going to miss it. As much as getting up at 5:30 in the morning for workouts and going and running sprints isn’t fun, in the end you’re going to miss it."
Following graduation, Rehkemper is looking to go on to graduate school and eventually earn a doctorate in physical therapy, using his experiences to help others. His time at OU, he says, has helped him become the person he is today.
"Some of my favorite memories are the ones I’ve made with the guys, making friends, laughing, and of course competing and seeing everyone do their best," Rehkemper said. "It’s having that family aspect on the team and making lifelong friends and brothers.
Raymond White is not only is a gymnast, he wants to put on a show every time he steps out for a routine.
"Probably one of my favorite things about being a gymnast here is the performance aspect," White said. "I love to go out and perform for people and give them the best show that I can."
White has taken full advantage of his final season, improving not only himself and the team but in the hopes of honoring the memory of his father who passed away almost a year ago. Above all, White would like to finish the 2014 campaign in a way that would make his father proud.
"This past year with losing my dad, the team came together for me and was really there for me. That was a big cornerstone in my college career."
Ranked No. 6 on floor and No. 10 on pommel horse among all NCAA competitors heading into Sunday night's regular season home finale, White and the Sooners are ready to end the end season on top.
Come out and support these four seniors and the rest of the No. 1-ranked Sooners on Sunday, March 9, at 4 p.m. CT.