Familiar foe Oklahoma looking to end MU's gymnastics season

Friday, April 3, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:06 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 3, 2009

COLUMBIA — Missouri has got to be getting sick of Oklahoma.

The Tigers’ gymnastics team will meet the Sooners for the third time this season Saturday at the NCAA Regional Championships in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

On Feb. 20, Missouri fell just short of upsetting the Sooners in Norman. The Tigers saw Oklahoma again two weeks ago at the Big 12 Championships, where they finished third, two tenths behind the champion Sooners.

On Saturday, Oklahoma will try to prevent the Tigers from making their first trip to the NCAA Championships since 1981.

No. 15 Missouri is the third-highest ranked team at the six-team regional, and the Tigers should have no problem beating Central Michigan, New Hampshire or Maryland.

But only the top two teams at the meet qualify for the National Championships, meaning Missouri will have to beat No. 3 Alabama or No. 9 Oklahoma to advance. Considering Alabama has scored at or above MU’s season high in each of its past six meets, the Tigers will probably need to zero in on Oklahoma.

“I think it’s a little frustrating for both teams,” said junior Sarah Shire, who rolled her eyes when asked about Oklahoma. “We want to get past them for the third (try) and they just want to push us away for the third time.”

Oklahoma is a known power. The Sooners qualified for the national championships the past five years.

“I think it’s a clash of two great programs,” coach Rob Drass said. “Mizzou is the up-and-comer and Oklahoma is the established giant.”

Sounds familiar. Oklahoma has been a roadblock for Missouri’s resurgent football team the past two years, stomping the Tigers in two straight Big 12 Championships to deny Missouri a BCS bowl game.

The football team has lost its past eight games against Oklahoma, but the gymnastics team’s futility against the Sooners is even worse. MU’s gymnasts haven’t beaten Oklahoma in their past 11 meets.

They were close this year. Oklahoma beat Missouri by a combined 0.35 points in two meets this season.

“There’s not one team that’s better than the other,” Drass said. “It’s just who’s going to be the best team that day.”

Junior Danielle Guider, though, said Missouri should beat Oklahoma.

“We’ve seen them. We know we’re better than them,” Guider said. “We just have to have that one day of all clicking together and knowing that we are a better team and we can beat them.”

Although Oklahoma is likely the team Missouri will have to target, the Tigers have been preparing for Alabama’s home crowd. The Crimson Tide averaged more than 12,000 fans per meet last season at Coleman Coliseum, second in the nation. Alabama is selling tickets for the meet on its Web site, which will offer a live radio broadcast for fans. Crimson Tide fans mean business, and Missouri knows it.

“Going into Alabama, the focus is there is going to be a big crowd, 10,000-plus people there,” Shire said. “Not a lot of girls on this team have competed in that situation. I think we’re doing our best to try to prepare everybody for it. It’s take it in, acknowledge it and move past.”

Missouri brought back its distraction CD in practice the past two weeks. Assistant coach Amy Smith compiled a CD containing Alabama’s chants and cheers. When the Tigers practiced on balance beam, arguably the event that requires the most focus, Smith blasted the CD.

Missouri also simulated the format of Saturday’s meet. Teams have two byes throughout the meet, meaning they take two rotations off while four other teams compete.

The past two weeks, Drass had his team stop practicing, go to the locker room, sit around for 20 minutes and then come back and start practicing again.

The Tigers will start on their two strongest events, floor and vault. Drass said he hopes Missouri can get off to a quick start to put pressure on Oklahoma.

“If there’s something we could do to make it more difficult on Oklahoma, we would definitely do it,” he said. “And I’m sure they would do it too … We’d love to put them in a spot that creates more pressure.”

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