Sooners claim fifth national championship in seven years in upset of No. 1 Stanford.
April 19, 2008
STANFORD, Calif. - The Oklahoma men's gymnastics team claimed the 2008 NCAA Championship with a 363.200-362.750 victory over event host and top-seeded Stanford Friday night. Once again the title came down to the final event as OU finished strong on rings (61.700) to overcome the Cardinal's 63.750 on vault and snare the program's eighth national championship in front of a partisan crowd inside Maples Pavilion on the Stanford campus
"We're thrilled," said OU head coach Mark Williams. "Stanford had a great crowd. They took us down to the very last event, made us have to earn it and really take our performance to another level. We just had kind of a special feeling this week."
It was an ending that couldn't have been scripted any better. Facing a deficit of almost two points with its final two competitors left to go on rings, the Sooners looked to senior co-captains Taqiy Abdullah-Simmons and Jonathan Horton to make one final charge at the title.
Despite an uncharacteristically rocky performance through the first five events, Abdullah-Simmons set OU up with a chance to win with a clutch rings performance that netted a score of 15.400.
Needing a score of at least 15.700 to win the title, Horton came through with a career-high score of 16.100, sticking his dismount and securing his third NCAA team championship as a Sooner.
"That was the first rings routine I think I've ever done where at the end I wasn't tired at all because I had so much adrenaline going," Horton said. "It was just so much fun to be up there in that handstand before my dismount just thinking, `I'm going to stick this. I'm going to give our team a shot.' I know Taqiy was thinking the same thing. We all had to do our jobs. Everybody was clutch tonight and came through when we needed them."
Horton finished second in the all-around (90.950) to Penn State's Casey Sandy (91.350), his second consecutive runner-up finish after winning the 2006 all-around title.
"I'm very proud of my team," Horton said. "A lot of times I tend to put pressure on myself to come through and I had some mistakes tonight, but my team was incredible. They backed us up in everything. A lot of guys came through tonight. It was an incredible performance. I couldn't have asked for anything better."
The Sooners have now won five of the last seven NCAA crowns, all under Williams. With eight national championships, the men's gymnastics team now owns the most titles of any OU athletics program, breaking a tie with the football and wrestling squads (seven).
"I probably still would have been happy with this team, win or lose," Williams said. "We've worked very hard to be national champions, but sometimes it's just about going out there and having fun and we were having a great time."
For the second straight night, Oklahoma started on vault where it was ranked No. 1 in the country. The Sooners burst out of the gate, recording a team score of 64.150 led by freshman Steven Legendre's career-high 16.400. Junior Chris Brooks scored a 15.950 from the sixth position, while classmate Russell Czeschin and freshman Bobby Shortle added matching 15.900s.
OU followed with a steady performance on the parallel bars highlighted by a 15.200 from Horton and a 14.950 from Brooks. Legendre added a 14.700 and junior Kyle McNamara scored a season-high 14.800 to round out Oklahoma's team score of 59.650 and give the Sooners a 123.800-122.700 advantage over Michigan through two rotations.
The Sooners turned in a solid performance on the high bar, turning in a team score of 58.900, just 0.050 points off the program record. OU got season high scores of 14.650 and 14.900 for McNamara and Legendre, as well as a 14.850 from Brooks. From the anchor position, Horton earned a 14.500 despite a fall.
Oklahoma got career highs from four gymnasts on the floor exercise, posting a school-record 62.600 team total. Sophomore Reed Pitts (15.400), Czeschin (15.450) and Horton (15.750) all set or tied their career marks before Legendre turned in a personal and program-best 16.000 from the sixth position. Legendre's previous best of 15.950 was set in Thursday's qualifying session.
After a bye rotation, Oklahoma did what it needed to do on the pommel horse, scoring a 56.200 on the apparatus. Junior Jason Laughton led the Sooners with a 14.300, and junior Jacob Messina and sophomore Corey English added scores of 14.150 and 14.100, respectively. Horton added a 13.650 to round out the team total.
Finishing on the rings, OU got solid performances from sophomore Ian Jackson (14.900) and Messina (15.300) before closing out the competition with routines from Abdullah-Simmons and Horton. Abdullah-Simmons notched his 15.400 before Horton came through with his career performance, sending the Oklahoma bench and fans into a raucous frenzy as his score was announced.
"This was the greatest team effort I've ever seen and the best team I've been a part of since I've been here," Abdullah-Simmons said. "We just went out there and performed. We had fun. That was the whole theme of this week - to embrace it and enjoy every moment with this team because this team will never be back on the floor again. We just loved every moment of it."
Six Oklahoma gymnasts will compete in Saturday night's Event Finals which will determine individual national championships and All-America honors. Representing the Sooners will be Horton (FX, SR, PB), Brooks (FX, PB, HB), Legendre (FX, V, HB), Laughton (PH), Czeschin (FX) and Pitts (FX). Horton is the defending national champion on floor, while Brooks, Czeschin and Pitts have all previously achieved All-America status.
The Event Finals are scheduled for a 9 p.m. (CT) start inside Maples Pavilion. Live scoring of the event will be available as part of NCAA Championship Central
ESPN2 (Cox Channel 28, HD Channel 721 in OKC) will air the Team and All-Around Finals on April 24 at 2 p.m. (CT).