MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- Consider the opportunity seized.
For the fifth consecutive season, the Oklahoma women's gymnastics team is an NCAA regional champion.
No. 2 Oklahoma posted a 197.725 to earn the NCAA Minneapolis Regional title and advance to the NCAA Championships for the 11th consecutive season. The Sooners won or tied for the top team score on three events and captured individual titles on vault and beam.
No event was more incredible for the Sooners than vault: Oklahoma earned a 49.700 to set a new program record on the event. It is the highest score on any event in OU program history--the Sooners counted no score below a 9.9.
Sophomore Maile'ana Kanewa shone for OU as she returned to her home state. Kanewa captured the vault title with a 9.975 (including 10.0s from two judges) and finished second on floor with a 9.925. Freshman Chayse Capps tied for top honors on balance beam, capturing a 9.9 for the Sooners.
Oklahoma's championship-caliber confidence and coolness was on display throughout the meet: the Sooners scored higher on every event as the evening progressed. A slow start on bars could not make OU falter as the team earned a 49.400 on beam, a 49.450 on floor and a 49.700 on vault.
Oklahoma picked up a 49.175 on bars in their first rotation after resting on a bye to start the meet. It was a solid effort for the Sooners top to bottom, with the potential to go even higher there had it not been for a few small steps on landings. A trio of Sooners led with 9.85s as Taylor Spears, Haley Scaman and Rebecca Clark each earned rotation-best efforts. McKenzie Wofford's routine in the No. 4 slot was good for a 9.825, while Charity Jones earned a 9.8 to boost Oklahoma.
The Sooners nailed a gorgeous rotation on beam in the squad's second event, posting a 49.400 behind a team-high 9.90 from Capps. Kara Lovan earned a 9.875 on a beautiful routine and a stuck landing in the No. 2 spot, while Erica Brewer nailed her double-back landing for a 9.875 in the No. 3 position. Rebecca Clark hit a gorgeous 9.875 in the anchor position, while Taylor Spears earned a 9.875 in the No. 5 slot for a stellar top-to-bottom effort.
OU shone on floor, capturing a 49.450 with nearly every routine scoring higher than the last. Spears opened with a 9.8, Capps followed with a 9.85 and Lovan earned a 9.875 in the No. 3 spot. Lara Albright broke through in traditionally strong fashion, earning a 9.9 to tie for third overall at the meet, and Kanewa followed her second-place 9.925 in an energetic and exciting effort. Haley Scaman closed with a 9.9 that included a huge double layout to open.
The pressure was off in Oklahoma's final rotation: with a comfortable lead over second-place contenders Illinois and Minnesota, the Sooners were out of reach. OU showed no signs of complacency, exploding for a program-record 49.700. Kanewa's 9.975 was tops for the Sooners, while Keeley Kmieciak posted a career-high 9.95 to finish second alongside Scaman's identical 9.95. Capps earned a 9.925 in the No. 5 spot, and Lovan and Mooring earned 9.9s to start.
It was a battle to the finish for the second-place spot, but Illinois emerged victorious with a 196.660 behind a 49.150 closing effort on beam. Minnesota took third at 196.350, while Cal was fourth at 195.600. Southern Utah earned fifth at 195.150 and San Jose State finished sixth with a 193.950.
Oklahoma and Illinois will advance to the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala., on April 18-20. The Sooners are the No. 2 seed overall and will contend for the program's fourth Super Six appearance beginning on April 18 in Semifinal competition. OU will face Illinois, Georgia, Michigan, LSU and Stanford, with the top two seeds advancing to the Super Six on April 19.