OU returns 18 of 24 routines from 2011 this season, including nine from All-Americans.
Jan. 4, 2012
| 2012 GymInfo Coaches Preseason Poll
Final 2011 ranking listed in parenthesis. OU opponents are in italics.
1. UCLA (2)
2. Alabama (1)
3. Florida (7)
4. OKLAHOMA (3)
5. Utah (5)
6. Nebraska (4)
7. Oregon State (8)
8. Stanford (15)
9. Georgia (9)
10. Michigan (6)
11. Arkansas (10)
12. LSU (20)
13. Penn State (14)
14. Boise State (13)
15. Illinois (11)
16. Washington (18)
17. Auburn (19)
18. Ohio State (16)
19. Arizona (21)
20. Denver (17)
21. Kent State (12)
22. Minnesota (22)
23. Kentucky (25)
24. Iowa State (24)
25. Iowa (28)
NORMAN, Okla. -- The fourth-ranked Oklahoma women's gymnastics squad aims for its ninth straight NCAA Championship appearance beginning Saturday, Jan. 7, in Lexington, Ky., as the Sooners take on No. 23 Kentucky, Bowling Green and Wisconsin-Oshkosh for "Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic."
Oklahoma enters the 2012 season after back-to-back top three finishes at the NCAA Super Six team finals in 2010 and 2011. The Sooners have quickly become one of the nation's elite women's gymnastics programs and hope to prove once again that OU is the real deal, a national title contender.
OU starts the 2012 season ranked No. 4 in the GymInfo preseason coaches poll, behind No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Florida. The Sooners received two first place votes in the poll and tied OU's program-best preseason ranking.
The Sooners add five newcomers for 2012 and return an impressive 18 of 24 routines from the 2011 lineup, including nine All-American performances.
Headlining OU's returnees are five-time All-American Megan Ferguson, two-time All-American Kayla Nowak and All-Americans Brie Olson and Sara Stone. Ferguson, Nowak Olson and Stone provide veteran leadership and experience that will be vital for the young Sooners.
OU will be tested in 2012 with the loss of All-American Natasha Kelley and a challenging schedule.
Kelley, who consistently scored in the 9.9s on vault, bars and beam, suffered a season-ending injury during preseason practice. The loss of Kelley's talent and experience will challenge OU's depth throughout the 2012 schedule, which includes 10 teams ranked in the preseason top 25 and five top 10 teams.
The Sooners face No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Alabama, No. 6 Nebraska, No. 7 Oregon State, No. 10 Michigan, No. 11 Arkansas, No. 18 Ohio State, No. 22 Minnesota, No. 23 Kentucky and No. 24 Iowa State.
Read below for a preview of all four events.
The Sooners return two All-Americans on vault and a total of four athletes who contributed in the 2011 lineup. Stone, sophomore Madison Mooring, junior Brie Olson and Nowak will provide a solid base for an overall young lineup.
"With some unexpected losses on this event, this is the area where we expect the athletes, veterans and newcomers, to step up," head coach K.J. Kindler said. "There will definitely be a strong underclassman influence on this event. We are approximately eight athletes deep on vault and the lineup is likely to fluctuate during the course of the season."
The 2011 NCAA Vault runner-up, Mooring, highlights the vault squad with two different 10.0 valued vaults. Stone has held the anchor position for two seasons and has secured that spot once again with her dynamic Yurchenko full.
Olson, who has two years of experience, and Nowak both boast career-highs of 9.9 on the apparatus. Nowak competed on vault just three times in 2011, but will be heavily relied on with the loss of Kelley.
Newcomers to the vault lineup include freshmen Erica Brewer and Rebecca Clark, sophomores Taylor Spears and Hayden Ward.
"This event has seen the greatest `upswing' for the Sooners," Kindler said. "Something that makes our team stand out on this event is the variety of elements you will see from our athletes. They perform different release moves such as Shaposhnakovas, tkatchevs, deltchevs, piked and straddled jaegers.
"Their dismounts include double fronts, double layouts, full twisting double layouts and combination work into double tucks. It is rare to see that kind of diversity on one team. Under the leadership of our All-Americans, this lineup should be one of our most impressive."
OU returns three All-Americans and six total athletes with competitive experience and adds three new routines to the event for a very seasoned and deep squad.
In addition to bar All-Americans Ferguson, Olson and Nowak, are three experienced Sooners including Spears, Ward and senior Candace Cindell.
Ward is expected to hold the all-important first position in the 2012 bar lineup. After fainting before warm-ups at NCAA Championships, Ward stepped up and delivered a beautiful routine in the leadoff spot. Spears displays a beautiful line and provides momentum for the squad. Cindell returns after debuting on the apparatus last season and gaining practice either in the lineup or as alternate.
Adding depth to the event will be three of OU's five newcomers; Brewer, Clark and sophomore Lauren Smith. The two freshmen, Brewer and Clark, boast "E" valued dismounts and difficult and unique release sequences. Smith joined the Sooners as a transfer from the Texas Tech club program. Since her arrival, Smith has refined her skills including two "D" release skills and an "E" level dismount.
At the 2011 NCAA Championships, the Sooners posted the top beam score in both the semifinal and Super Six sessions. OU was the only team out of the 12 participants to score above a 49.000 on the apparatus on the first night of competition. The Sooners lose just two routines from the 2011 lineup.
"Beam has traditionally been a strong event for us and this year is no exception," Kindler said. "We feel that our athletes will perform some of the most unique choreography and difficult skills and combinations in the NCAA. If there is one phrase to describe this squad, it would be `poised and confident'. They compete beam like other athletes like to perform floor routines, without limits."
Oklahoma is led by the extraordinary foursome of Ferguson (All-American and Big 12 Co-Champion), Nowak (All-American), Mooring and Spears.
Ferguson is mesmerizing on this event and will anchor the lineup. As the squad starter, Nowak is an absolute rock for the Sooners with a hit percentage of 95 percent in competition since her arrival.
Mooring is elegant and captivating while Spears shows great diversity, "E" level skills and concludes with a dynamic dismount.
Also expected to make key contributions on beam are Brewer, Clark and Stone.
"Erica and Rebecca are both amazing on this event," Kindler said. "Rebecca's experience at the elite level allows her to be calm, elegant and poised as she performs. Erica shows grit and aggressiveness. They have completely different styles, but the result is the same. Sara saw limited action last season but with the addition of an upgraded flight series, she will likely be a staple in this lineup."
Sophomore transfer Lara Albright, Cindell, Olson and freshman Haley Sorenson provide additional depth on the apparatus. All four are prepared and ready to see the competition floor.
The Sooners return 100 percent of their floor lineup from 2011. This event displays a great deal of depth and each athlete has pushed the envelope to increase difficulty in both dance and tumbling components in preseason practice.
"Artistry and execution are the key components to our floor routines," Kindler said. "The squad is hitting a high note with increased difficulty in their tumbling as well. Our routine composition is unique to each individual and pure enjoyment to watch. The key words are dynamic and entertaining."
Three influential veterans will anchor the floor squad, Nowak, Ferguson and Stone. These athletes have 2-3 years of experience will have an enormous impact on the event while all three will debut new tumbling this season.
"Kayla will perform to a percussion-based piece and will dazzle with her character induced theatrics," Kindler said. "Megan is her spunky self as she moves with seemingly
effortless energy across the floor. Sara will bring the drama as her routine focusses on long, strong and detailed movements.
"Brie Olson will undoubtedly be counted on by the Sooners with a tango-inspired routine with extraordinary pizazz that shows dynamic tumbling."
Olson, Albright, Brewer, Spears, Mooring and Ward round out the top nine on floor for OU.
"Erica (Brewer) is a tiny explosion of powerful tumbling and endurance out on the floor," Kindler said. "Lara (Albright) grabs your attention immediately and her tumbling is clean as a whistle. Taylor (Spears) has upgraded her tumbling passes while Hayden (Ward) and Madison (Mooring) will continue to provide depth to this squad."