NORMAN, Okla. — Three years ago, Oklahoma was poised to win the program’s ninth NCAA championship. With the meet being held at their home gym, they had almost everything they needed to capture the title.
However, the one element they didn’t have then was experience. With four freshman on the squad playing vital roles, they were a young, new to the pressure of a big meet.
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That inexperience showed up at the wrong time in 2012. In the final rotation, the Sooners made critical errors that wound up costing them the championship that ended up in the hands of Illinois.
After coming in second the next two years again, that same crew of freshman learned from its mistakes and returned to the scene of the crime Friday with the 2015 NCAA tournament being held at Lloyd Noble Center. The top-ranked Sooners were once again on the verge of bringing home the hardware when it got to the final rotation of the night. But instead of cracking under the pressure, the seniors rose to the occasion and captured the NCAA title.
“This is an amazing feeling to know that four year of work have finally paid off,” OU senior Dylan Akers said. “To see the reward, show up, at home, in front of the entire university. Coming up short the previous three seasons has everything to do with the celebration. Every single year we got closer and closer but fell short every single year. It was motivation for this moment.”
Despite a slow start, the Sooners racked up 447.050 points. That was more than enough to hold off Stanford (440.450) and Penn State (439.500). Michigan, California and Iowa rounded out the final six.
It was the senior class of Akers, Michael Reid, William Clement, Michael Squires, Jacoby Rubin, Danny Beradini, Alec Robin and Sergey Resnick who put the squad on their backs and carried them through the finish line.
“It’s so big,” senior Michael Reid said. “It’s four years in the coming. We’ve been working on this since freshman year, always short. To finally come up and get it. We had that confidence. We might have lacked in the previous years, but this year we had the confidence.”
When the final scores were tallied, no one was happier than OU coach Mark Williams. Even though he already had five national title to his name, the last one came in 2008. When Clement finished off the final rotation on the high bar, Williams couldn’t stop jumping for joy as his team began to celebrate.
“It’s awesome,” Williams said. “Winning at home in front of the home crowd. These guys have earned it. These seniors have worked so hard. Finally moving up the podium one more step. Being second, I was happy with it the last couple of years. But I can honestly if we didn’t win tonight I would have been disappointed.”
Two events into the meet, the Sooners found themselves trailing in third place. It was not a normal position for a squad that had dominated almost every competition it had been in from start to finish.
It wasn’t until Oklahoma got to the still rings that the match was lit. One by one each of the Sooners picked up steam and moved up the scoring chart. By the time Squires climbed the stairs, OU was ready to explode and the two-time national individual champion gave them a reason.
Squires posted a 16.45 to tie an NCAA record. When he was done, he jumped off the stage and gave a hulkish yell. The Sooners took the lead and seemed on heir way to rolling toward the championship.
However, when it got to the P-Bars, things start to go wrong with a couple of low scores and an injury.
“Danny Beradini knocked the P-Bars on his head,” Williams said. “He is bleeding from the head. He still managed to get through a pretty good P-bar routine. We’re struggling to get him ready to do high bar. He had blood all over his jersey. I’m thinking no, we don’t kneed to deal with this right now.”
But the seniors weren’t going to let the title slip from them this time. They went to the high bar and hit five out of five sets and closed out the night and the title.
“It says that we’re tough,” Akers said. “That we just keep on fighting. We were going to claw and scratch and dig our way into it. But we won it. We’re a part of history. We’re part of something infinitely greater than ourselves. We have impacted this entire arena. It’s so amazing that we were a part of that. That we brought home this championship to the university.”