By Lindsey Morrison
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
She has two Big 12 Championship titles, three first place finishes at an NCAA regional, two Super Six appearances, a Big 12 Gymnast of the Year accolade, the Big 12 All-Around title for 2013 and finished last season ranked No. 1 on the beam. But amongst all the awards and achievements, one thing is still missing for Taylor Spears: a team national championship title.
“I’m really excited about being a senior leader on this team and being a part of more OU gymnastics history,” senior Spears said. “The four years I’ve been here, we’ve been working towards that national title and we’ve gotten really close twice. I think this team can do it.”
Spears hails from Plano, Texas and the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy where Olympic gold medalists like Nastia Liukin and Carly Patterson learned their craft. She began gymnastics at age three and knew right away she had a gift.
“Gymnastics came really naturally to me when I was young,” she said. “I loved doing it and it’s always been my passion.”
When it came time to figure out her future, Spears knew that collegiate gymnastics was the right path for her.
“I watched college gymnastics on TV and I saw how much fun it was,” she said. “I wanted to take that path and get my school paid for.”
Though powerhouse gymnastics schools such as Alabama, Florida and LSU recruited her, Spears took one visit to Oklahoma and knew it was the place she’d spend the next four years.
“It was the first visit and only visit I took,” she said. “I fell in love with it right off the bat.”
Since joining the Sooners in 2011, Spears has become someone the entire team looks up to as a leader.
“Taylor is a great leader for the team,” senior Hayden Ward said. “She has a ton of experience and I know everyone on the team looks up to her. We know she’s going to deliver every time she gets out on the floor and we couldn’t ask for more.”
As a freshman, Spears competed on bars, beam and floor, scoring highs of 9.9, 9.9 and 9.875 respectively. Results like these earned her three Big 12 Newcomer of the Week accolades along with an All-Big 12 nod on beam.
Even though she has numerous individual awards, Spears isn’t focused on herself. Instead, she wants the team as a whole to succeed.
“Those are just individual titles,” Spears said. “They’re great, but ultimately it’s a team sport and I want to win a national championship as a team.”
Though the talent and performances come from Spears’ natural ability, her routines come from the mind of Oklahoma Women’s Gymnastics Head Coach, KJ Kindler.
“KJ is an amazing beam coach,” Spears said. “She comes up with strategic and clever assignments.”
Besides teaching her beam skills and routines, Kindler also taught Spears how to embrace her skills.
“She taught me how to be confident on beam,” she said. “She works on every little detail and every detail is extremely important especially when competing. She puts you up in pressure situations even in the gym and it helps you out a lot.”
Though beam is one of her strongest events, Spears spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons competing in the all-around competition. As a junior, she was the only gymnast in the nation to win the all-around title at both a conference and regional championship.
“It’s very unique because very often you’ll find, we don’t have many all-around competitors,” Kindler said. “We use them sparingly because it’s important to make it through the entire season and you have to be smart about the choices you make.
“For us to have an all-around competitor that was at that level was huge. I don’t think in my 8 years here we’ve had someone that was ranking that high in the all-around. It was huge for her and was an amazing year.”
Kindler also hopes that Taylor and this year’s team can end the season with a first-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
“What I want for Taylor and for our whole senior squad is to have an amazing experience and an amazing year and have the opportunity to win it all,” she said. “If you have that opportunity, all you can do is put your most into it and see what happens. I want her to have that opportunity.”
January 10 marked Spears’ last home opener as an OU gymnast. Competing against No. 8 Georgia, the team posted a victory with a history-making season-opener score of 197.700, a score that would have easily won last year’s NCAA Championship.“I’m going to miss the girls, coaches and competing,” she said. “I’m really proud of the growth of the program and am going to miss being part of this wonderful gym family.”