Men’s gymnastics: Sooners to battle tough competition
The No. 1 OU men’s gymnastics team has faced ranked opponents in four of its five meets this season and already has faced five of the nation’s top-10 teams. The Sooners’ schedule is not getting any easier now, though, as the team prepares to host No. 4 Stanford at 7 p.m. Saturday in McCasland Field House.
Erika Philbrick, The Oklahoma Daily
OU already has topped Stanford once this season, defeating the Cardinals 351.6-343-7 Feb. 12 in Berkeley, Calif. The Sooners know Stanford is not a team to be taken lightly, though.
The team’s only losses this year have been to Oklahoma and No. 7 Cal. Most recently, the team posted its season-high score, 351.050, against No. 8 Michigan. In addition to that, OU knows its performance against the Cardinals will hold a bearing on how the rest of the season goes.
“They’re the defending national champions, and this competition’s going to be a really big determining factor on how things will play out later on,” sophomore Raymond White said. “All of us are really excited and anxious, so it will be a lot of fun.”
While the Sooners hold a healthy amount of respect for the reigning national champions, the team certainly has no reason to fear the Cardinals. Aside from the fact that OU already took them down once this season, the Sooners have been on a tear since their only loss of the season to Illinois on Jan. 28.
Most recently, the team put up a season-high score of its own, a 356.250, in its first home meet of the year. Freshman Danny Berardini said the loss has only pushed the team to work that much harder. Thus far, the work seems to be paying off.
“I don’t know if (the Illinois loss) was a wake-up call, but it definitely lit a fire under us,” Berardini said. “Every meet matters; every practice matters, so we don’t want that happening again. We’re going to remember that feeling, and hopefully, it won’t happen again the rest of the season.”
That fire Illinois sparked under the Sooners definitely has shown. Since that loss, OU has posted two of its top three scores of the year. Before the opening home meet against Iowa, coach Mark Williams indicated he thought his team might post some higher scores at home, particularly with so many inexperienced freshmen on the team.
His team proved him right in the first of its four consecutive home meets. Now, the Sooners just need to continue carrying that momentum forward.
“(The home opener) was definitely a good start, and the energy really helped,” freshman Jacoby Rubin said. “I think it’s going to help for the rest of the home meets, and we’re just going to do the same thing we did the first time.”
After Saturday’s top-five matchup at McCasland Field House, the Sooners will not be getting any off weeks.
OU will host yet another top-10 matchup March 10 when they take on the No. 8 Michigan Wolverines. OU has one of the toughest schedules in the nation, but the gymnasts are not complaining. They say they enjoy the competition, and most of all, enjoy getting better.
“It’s really grueling and tough, and we fight through it,” White said. “But it’s good for us at the same time, because we’re getting that experience. The harder we push ourselves, the better we’re going to get. That’s never a bad thing, no matter how sore we get or how early in the morning we have to show up.”