Defending Big 12 Champion Sooners slated to be one of the top teams in the nation.
Jan. 2, 2013
NORMAN, Okla. -- The defending Big 12 Champion University of Oklahoma women's gymnastics team enters the 2013 season looking to defend its title and compete as one of the top squads in the country.
Ranked No. 4 in the nation in the GymInfo preseason coaches poll, OU has shown its dominance by being ranked in the top 10 every season under head coach K.J. Kindler.
Kindler and the Sooner coaching staff lead a team that has advanced to the NCAA Championships all six years of Kindler’s tenure and includes two Super Six appearances and subsequent top-three finishes.
This season, the Sooners will face a total of 11 teams in the top 25 in 2013, beginning with No. 11 Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Jan. 5 in the season opener and finish at No. 1 Alabama on March 15. After the Big 12 Championships in Ames, Iowa, OU will host an NCAA Regional on April 6.
OU comes off a No. 7 finish, narrowly missing its third-straight Super Six berth after fighting through multiple injuries throughout the season. With a strong returning class, and a freshman unit that will show its skill right away, the 2013 Sooners will be an exciting squad that will excite gymnastics fans around the country.
At the NCAA Championships in 2012, OU competed without four vaulters from the original 2012 starting lineup. Rebecca Clark, Hayden Ward, Natasha Kelley and Kayla Nowak were all sidelined with injuries during the course of the season. OU turned in its lowest event total on this event and through the recruitment of some powerful and strong athletes have rejuvenated the potential for the Sooners in 2013.
The Sooners lost vault anchor Sara Stone to graduation but reeled in a strong vault class in freshmen Haley Scaman, Maile’ana Kanewa, Keeley Kmieciak and Hunter Price. All four are expected to compete for the Sooners this season.
The Sooners return one vaulting All-American and a total of four athletes who contributed in the 2012 line-up. Erica Brewer (So.), Madison Mooring (Jr.), Brie Olson (Sr.), and Taylor Spears (Jr.) will provide a solid base for an overall youthful line-up. Mooring was the NCAA runner-up in 2011 as one of only a handful of athletes to perform two 10.0-valued vaults in the NCAA finals. Spears has definitely upped her game by learning a Yurchenko full in the offseason while Brewer and Olson are showing great amplitude and improved execution. In addition, 2012 heroine Haley Sorensen, who stepped in for Nowak at the NCAA Championships, has been training a 10.0-valued vault in the offseason and is showing the ambition to contribute to this lineup.
The freshman class is slated to have a big impact on this event. Scaman and Kmieciak, two former Level 10 Junior Olympic vault champions, will add dynamic pop to the vault lineup this season. Newcomer Scaman is expected to anchor the squad with an incredible 1 & ½ twisting Yurchenko. In the preseason, Kanewa’s Yurchenko full flew higher and further than anyone and she is expected to jump into the lineup midseason after experiencing a hand injury unrelated to gymnastics. Price, a former Junior Olympic Level 9 vault champion, is also slated to contribute.
“We are looking at a huge increase in our scoring potential on this event,” Kindler said. “We want to return to the Super Six and this event is key. The freshmen are fierce competitors and this is their forte. They will be incredibly effective in our goal to raise the competitive bar.”
The Sooners look to replace graduates Megan Ferguson and Candace Cindell in 2013. Ferguson was an All-American and bar anchor for the Sooners.
OU returns one All-American and five total athletes with competitive experience. Veterans Brewer, Clark, Olson, Spears and Hayden Ward will add great experience to this event.
Olson, a 2012 NCAA All-American, is back with a completely reconstructed bar routine. In order to maximize her scoring potential, the coaching staff readjusted her skills which highlight a dynamic in-bar Delchev and an amazing full twisting double layout. Spears, Brewer and Clark are clean and precise and will definitely maximize their scoring potential. Ward is expected to lead off the Sooners due to her incredible consistency and competitiveness.
In addition, Lauren Smith has made major adjustments and improvements in the offseason. Her bar routine swings with ease and ends with a dynamic full in dismount. She is expected to contribute this season as well.
Adding depth to the squad will be a pair of Oklahoma newcomers, Kmieciak and Scaman. Kmieciak learned the unique and high flying “Ray” (toe on reverse hecht) release move in the preseason and ends with a strong full twisting double flyaway. Scaman has shown great consistency in the gym and has focused on her execution and stuck dismounts. These athletes boast “E” valued dismounts and release sequences and have tremendous potential to score big on this event.
“We have great leadership on this event with many solid and inspired veterans competing for the Sooners,” Kindler stated. “This experience will be crucial in the success of the squad. We have put tremendous focus on improving our dismount landings and optimizing our scoring potential through routine construction, as well as attention to details.”
At the 2012 NCAA Nationals, the Sooners turned in the top team beam score in the preliminary session for the second year in a row. The Sooners lose 2012 All-American and national runner-up Ferguson and All-American Stone from the balance beam lineup. In addition, Kayla Nowak will cheer from the sidelines with a season-ending injury.
Oklahoma is led by a seasoned and confident group of “beamers” including Brewer, Clark, Mooring, Spears and Olson. All five of the athletes show incredible poise and unmatched consistency. Spears, Mooring and Clark show beauty and fluidity of movement. Brewer and Olson show a combination of power and incredible control.
Also expected to make key contributions to this lineup are Lara Albright, Lauren Alexander, and Kmieciak. After adding new flight and leap series to her repertoire, Albright is ready to take the stage on this event. She has incredible presence and aggressiveness. After a two-year hiatus, Alexander has returned to the Sooner roster in 2013. Alexander’s arrival will give this beam squad an edge. She is elegant and effortless and has the ability to bring in strong scores. Freshman Kmieciak is being trained as the lead off competitor for the Sooners, a position that goes to an athlete with a mature and assertive demeanor. She dismounts with an “E” valued double tuck dismount. The last time a freshman led off the beam squad was in 2010 when Nowak recorded a perfect 100 percent hit rate as the starter.
Adding even more depth are Scaman, Kanewa, Smith and Sorensen. All four are prepared and have the ability to turn in top notch performances for the Sooners. Smith learned a “D” valued dismount and has shown more consistency than ever. Sorensen and Scaman are both smooth operators and show tremendous grace on this event. Kanewa is commanding, combining both polish and power to a unique routine.
“We are known as a beam team,” Kindler said of her squad. “Our team knows it and they take great pride in executing this event with that expectation. We continue to perform unique choreography and we pay great attention to detail. In the offseason, we made our main focus leaps and jumps. This squad has shown tremendous improvement on these elements and we believe it will make them standout.”
The Sooners lose three stellar floor performers in graduates Ferguson and Stone and the sidelined Nowak.
This event will depend on the leadership of the senior Olson and juniors Albright and Spears rousing a group of younger competitors. These three athletes have incredible showmanship and very clean and precise tumbling. Albright is slated to lead off the squad and provides a sneak peek into the delightful choreography. She is a sassy competitor and a joy to watch. Olson will dance to a fun and energetic tune that is sure to entertain. She makes the audience her focus and she never disappoints. Spears debuts her routine with an “E” level tumbling pass and has an elegant style that highlights her flexibility and form.
Brewer will represent the sophomore class in this line-up. She is a dynamic tumbler and dances to percussion inspired music. Brewer is a go to competitor for the Sooners.
Freshmen Kanewa, Scaman and Kmieciak will all contribute heavily on floor. Scaman will anchor this squad with her standout tumbling including a double layout opening pass. Scaman has great expression in her dance and combines artistry and power perfectly. Kmieciak incorporated voice into her music and you cannot help but be impressed with her sureness of movement. She is a strong tumbler and is the reigning Level 10 floor champion of 2012. Kanewa looks to get back into action on this event in the last 2/3 of the season. She can draw in an audience from her very first movement and tumbles out of this world. Price will add depth to this event as well.
“We like to entertain,” Kindler said of the Sooners. “Artistry and execution are emphasized in our floor routines and we aim to increase our difficulty every season. At our peak, it is possible for all six of our athletes to open with an “E” valued tumbling pass. I think it is very difficult to watch our routines without feeling moved, excited or just simply smiling.”
Sooner all-around competitors this season could include Kmieciak, Brewer, Taylor and Scaman while Olson, the 2012 Big 12 all-around champion, is also expected to contribute in the all-around at some point this season.