By MICHAEL KINNEY
Erica Brewer remembers how close they came. Finishing second to Florida by less than a point in the finals of the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships is something the junior has not yet put behind her.
As the Sooners kick off the 2014 campaign tonight, Brewer and her teammates plan to use the pain of last year’s loss to propel them back to another championship hunt.
“We missed it by two-tenths,” Brewer said of the 197.575-197.375 loss to Florida. “In gymnastics that’s really not that much. That just shows us how close we are, and how we can actually achieve that goal. It just pushes us inside of the gym just to work hard and focus on all the little details.”
The third-ranked Sooners open the season by hosting No. 8 Georgia at 6:45 p.m. today at the Lloyd Noble Center. The Sooners are 5-0 in season openers at home under head coach K.J. Kindler.
The matchup is the second in a home-and-home series over two seasons with Georgia; in 2013, OU opened the year with a huge 196.450-195.425 road win over the Gym Dogs in Athens.
“I want to see a solid start,” Oklahoma’s Taylor Spears said. “Our fans are there for us, and that just helps you elevate the room.
“I definitely think this team has great potential to be No. 1.”
However, the Sooners come into the season with a different squad than the one they ended with last year. Gone are a trio of seniors that included All-American Brie Olson, who was one of the faces of the team.
In their place, the Sooners have reloaded by bringing in freshmen Chayse Capps, Reagan Hemry, Charity Jones, Kara Lovan and McKenzie Wofford.
“I’m really excited to start this year,” Spears said. “We have a lot of new faces on the team — five freshmen. We lost three seniors. It’s a new foundation I think. It’s just a little different this year. I am excited for it.”
Oklahoma also returns five All-American routines from last season’s squad, including first-teamers Brewer, Rebecca Clark, and Madison Mooring.
Joining the mix are Big 12 award winners Spears (Gymnast of the Year), Lauren Alexander (Specialist of the Year) and Haley Scaman (Newcomer of the Year).
“You never realize it’s your last year until it’s your last year,” Spears said. “After this, I’m done. There is no more gymnastics, so I want to really live up this year. I definitely really want it to count. I’ve seen this program come a long ways just since I’ve been on the team. I want it to keep going and I’d love to come out with a national championship.”
Georgia is the first of four teams that competed in the 2013 NCAA Super Six team finals, and eight teams that earned berths to the NCAA Championships last season. It’s the type of schedule Brewer is looking forward to as they prepare for what she hopes is a championship year.
“The one goal is to win a national championship,” Brewer said. “This program has been building for a very long time. It’s finally our time to claim that trophy. We’ve worked really, really hard. I think this season will show how hard we’ve worked.”