The No. 1-ranked, MPSF Champion Oklahoma men’s gymnastics team looks to make history this weekend as it travels to West Point, N.Y., seeking a third consecutive national title at the 2017 NCAA Championships on the campus of the United States Military Academy. The Sooners will compete in the second of two six-team qualifiers on Friday evening, with the top three teams from each session advancing to Saturday’s team finals. Individual national champions will be decided during Saturday’s team finals as well. Competition will be held in “five-up, five-count” format, meaning all individual scores will count toward the team score. The meet will be streamed on NCAA.com with live scoring also available.
For the third consecutive year, the Sooners enter the NCAA Championships with a perfect regular season record and a conference title. Additionally, OU ended the regular season ranked first as a team with a four-score average of 433.067. Stanford ranked second with a mark of 422.100. The Sooners ranked first as a team on every event and boasted the top individual on all six events as well. Sophomore Yul Moldauer currently ranks first on floor (14.825), rings (15.063) and parallel bars (15.388), while senior Allan Bower leads on pommel horse (15.000), freshman Tanner Justus sits atop the vault standings (14.963) and sophomore Levi Anderson ranks first on high bar (14.863).
The Sooners won their sixth consecutive MPSF Championship two weeks ago in Berkeley, Calif., The title was the 15th of head coach Mark Williams’ 18-year reign as the Sooners’ head coach. Oklahoma struggled a bit in the meet but was able to put up an impressive team score of 432.200 to best second-place Stanford by more than five points. In addition to the team title, three Sooners won a total of five individual conference titles. Sophomore Yul Moldauer won floor, rings and parallel bars, freshman Matt Wenske won vault and sophomore Levi Anderson won high bar.
The Sooners have won or finished first in every meet they have competed in since placing second at the 2014 NCAA team finals. In that span they have racked up 66 victories, the most consecutive wins in program history and the most since piling up 52 wins from 2002 to 2004.
LET IT R3IGN
Oklahoma is chasing a third consecutive national championship in 2017 after completing back-to-back undefeated title runs in 2015 and 2016. The Sooners have repeated as national champions three times under Williams but have never won three in a row. The last program to accomplish that feat was Nebraska, which won five straight from 1979 to 1983. Williams was part of those Cornhusker teams as student-athlete and then as a graduate assistant. Three or more consecutive titles has only happened two other times in NCAA history (Penn State, 1959-1961; Illinois, 1939-1942).
ONE MORE FOR THE BOOKS
A national championship on Saturday would be Oklahoma’s 11th in program history. That would put the Sooners just one shy of the all-time record of 12 held by Penn State. A title would also be the eighth for Mark Williams as the Sooners’ head coach. That would tie him for the second-most all-time with his old head coach, Nebraska legend Francis Allen.
The Sooners have been successful in the classroom as well as the gym this year. Eight Sooners were named MPSF Academic Scholar-Athletes and eight were also named to the Academic All-Big 12 At-Large First Team. To qualify for the honors, student-athletes must meet minimum GPA and participation requirements.
AMERICAN CUP CHAMPION
Sophomore Yul Moldauer became the ninth Sooner champion at the AT&T American Cup in 2017, joining a distinguished list that includes many Olympians. Moldauer scored 85.931 in the all-around to finish first, just ahead of 2016 Olympic silver medalist Oleg Vernlaiev of Ukraine. One of two American gymnasts in the nine-man field, Moldauer won the event title on floor with a 14.566 and then put up rock solid marks in the remaining five events to secure the title. The American Cup is the most prestigious meet in international gymnastics in 2017. Former winners have gone on to compete for Team USA in World Championships and Olympic Games.
NATIONAL TEAM DOMINANCE
Oklahoma made serious waves at the 2017 Winter Cup. Moldauer won the all-around competition with a two-day score of 171.750 to become the first Sooner to win the event since two-time Olympian Jake Dalton did so in 2011. Senior co-captain Allan Bower placed third while junior Hunter Justus placed eighth to join Moldauer on the U.S. Senior National Team. Moldauer and Bower each make their second national team while Justus makes his first. In addition to the three current Sooners, four alumni, Chris Brooks, Dalton, Alex Naddour and Kanji Oyama, were also chosen for the national team, giving OU seven of the 15 total national team members.
U.S. Senior National Team member Allan Bower also earned an international assignment with his performance at the 2017 Winter Cup. After finishing third at Winter Cup, Bower traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, to represent Team USA at the World Cup. Bower notched an all-around score of 81.699 and turned in third-place routines on floor (13.900), rings (13.833) and vault (14.333). Bower also finished fifth on pommel horse (13.333), eighth on parallel bars (14.000) and ninth on high bar (12.300).
A big storyline in 2017 has been changes made to the code of points used to score routines.
“The code of points has changed so there are only four special requirements on each apparatus instead of five,” Williams said. “Each special requirement is half a point. Basically they have combined some element groups and reduced the overall requirement. Typically we have said that a really good score is a 14.500 to a 15.000. We’re going to see that same routine score between a 14.000 and a 14.500. A lot of good gymnasts are going to be doing routines that are in the high 13s. The team score is going to be affected and each individual score is going to be about a half a point lower.”
OU welcomes a pair of talented freshmen for 2017 in Matt Wenske and Tanner Justus. At the 2016 U.S. Championships Wenske tied two-time Olympian Jake Dalton for the event title on vault as a senior in high school. Justus finished first in his age group on vault at the 2013 and 2014 Men’s Junior Olympic National Championships. He currently leads the nation on vault. Wenske returned against Ohio State after missing two months with a knee injury. He ranks second on vault.