NORMAN — The Oklahoma men's gymnastics team relied heavily on its freshmen for production all season. With qualification for the team finals of the NCAA championship in the balance, Sooners coach Mark Williams asked his young talent to come through again.
More than half of Oklahoma's 18-man roster is comprised of freshmen. The Sooners have received contributions from freshmen Danny Berardini on parallel bars, Michael Reid on pommel horse and Dylan Akers on high bar.
The No.1-ranked Sooners responded Thursday night at Lloyd Noble Center with a qualifying team score of 356.20. Oklahoma earned an opportunity to compete for the program's first national championship since 2008 and its ninth in program history at 7 p.m. Friday.
OU has finished no worse than fourth in the championships since 2000. But this is the first squad Williams has coached that doesn't boast a holdover from a previous national championship team since 2001.
“Today, our goal was just to go through the routines, hit them like we know how to and go out as hard as we can,” Akers said. “I'm pretty excited for tomorrow.”
Williams expected the Sooners' freshmen to be nervous but was pleased with their response.
“I think we had a little bit of nervousness on high bar,” Williams said. “But they kind of settled in as we got to floor, and pommel horse was awesome. At that point, we just had to keep doing what we were doing.”
Senior Patrick Piscitelli displayed his experience with two rotations left, when he stuck his landing after his rings routine for a score of 14.6.
Piscitelli is one of three captains on this year's squad who've helped the freshmen adapt to the pressures of college gymnastics. He's relished the role.
“It was an opportunity to take a whole big group of talented guys in different fields and mold them to our program,” Piscitelli said. “They've been doing an outstanding job all across the board. I'm just very proud of all the freshmen.”