The quest for No. 9 begins Friday for Oklahoma gymnastics.
The Sooners, who have competed through the loss of Olympian Jake Dalton and multiple injuries, were not expected to compete for an NCAA Men's Championship. That forced Oklahoma coach Mark Williams to change this season's game plan.
This weekend at Penn State, Williams and the Sooners will compete to bring home the ninth national title.
Q: How is recruiting a gymnast different from a football coach recruiting a five-star recruit he knows may not stay for his four years of eligibility? Do you plan for the long term differently?
A: “There's not too many occasions where we'll recruit somebody who gets wowed away by the money they can earn doing the sport they love to do. In most cases, we are selling a package of the importance of their education and having an opportunity to continue to do their sport.
“We're trying to provide them the best opportunity to be on a team that has significance, that competes for championships while preparing themselves academically to step into a different world as soon as they're done with college where they aren't doing gymnastics anymore and following their career path that they've at least been given a good step toward whatever that next life is. Ninety-nine percent of the time it has nothing to do with them as gymnasts.”
How did this year change when Jake Dalton decided to turn professional?
“What it did was made us sort of rally as a team, but we can't necessarily replace what Jake gave us. In many ways, score wise, it was almost six or seven points to our team score, but it provided opportunities for a lot of guys who didn't get to do much more then a couple events last year.
“I was really amazed in some respects that somebody like Alec Robin, who was a walk-on two years ago and actually not recruited but came here for the opportunity to do gymnastics and go to college, and now he's our top all-arounder for this season.
“We won the Metroplex Challenge, and nobody thought that that was possible. And then we beat Michigan at Michigan and nobody thought that was possible, and then we won the conference championships. Anything we do this weekend is kind of an extension of that theme. We'll continue to exceed expectations.”
Did you think you'd be able to make it back to the NCAA team finals?
“At the beginning of the year, I never thought that was a given. I felt like we really had to work hard to get in that group of Top-6 teams. The fact that we're ranked second in the nation going into the last weekend is, to me, a pretty amazing feat.”
What did it take to win your first NCAA titles?
“You have to have guys that really believe that what they've done throughout the season matter and that they have the opportunity to do something that's incredible as a group. And compete to be national champions is just an extension of the excellence they've had throughout the season and the practice leading up to the Championships.”
What will the team have to do this weekend to win No. 9?
“For that to be a reality, we're going to have to find a way to be, not perfect, but we're going to have to get through 30 routines without any major errors. ... I think the competition is just too close. ... We're going to have to have guys who developed the confidence that it's not going to matter, that they can still put out their best performance at the most critical time and get out there and we can hit 30 sets for 30.”