College gymnastics: Sooners' Kmieciak, Scaman look to end careers with another title
Oklahoma boasts a rich history that has flourished in recent years, due in large part to the contributions of seniors Keeley Kmieciak and Haley Scaman.
Without a doubt, the duo has been instrumental in helping to lay the foundation of success experienced by OU.
The numbers speak for themselves: During Kmieciak and Scaman’s time in Norman, the Sooners have won Big 12 titles, NCAA Regional crowns and made the NCAA Championships each year. In their four seasons, Kmieciak and Scaman, who both hail from the suburbs of Chicago, have helped lead the Sooners to a staggering 122-8-1 overall record.
OU has also qualified for the Super Six team finals three times and will look to make it a fourth this weekend at the 2016 NCAA Championships. The Sooners reached the pinnacle of their sport in 2014, winning the first NCAA title in program history, and recorded second- and third-place finishes in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
“They have put this team at the very top for every single year that they’ve been here, and no one else has done that in their program,” says 10th-year OU head coach K.J. Kindler. “They’ve definitely pushed us to a completely different level. They’ve built our reputation nationally. Their names are common household NCAA names, and [these are] things that you have to earn. They have earned every single bit of it.”
ELEVATING A PROGRAM
When the OU coaching staff was recruiting Kmieciak and Scaman, it was looking to fill the void that would be left by a great class, Kindler says. She knew that these two could be impactful from day one and put the program at a different level.
What caught the eye of Kindler and her staff went beyond gymnastics, though, to their family support and simply their values and who they are as people. The gymnastics aspect wasn’t too shabby as well as both were national champions in the Junior Olympic program.
“We went out to seek the best athletes we could possibly get to come to Oklahoma, and when we received our verbal commitments from Haley and Keeley, it was absolutely huge for our program,” Kindler says. “I really felt from the very beginning that we knew they would elevate our program, and when they walked in the door they were no different than we all expected them to be: super high talent level, definitely disciplined, dedicated. They had come a long way to come to Oklahoma. They had made a huge commitment and gone far from home because they were chasing something that we thought we could deliver to them.
“They definitely wanted to win the first national championship here,” Kindler continues. “That’s something that we talked about greatly during their recruiting process, and it was so awesome for that to come to fruition for them their sophomore year. You could even see their freshman year at nationals that they had put this program at a different place. It’s just been fun to watch them grow.”
Kindler calls Kmieciak “one of the most talented athletes” that has ever walked in the door at OU, bringing physical ability, dynamic performances and a strong competitiveness to the table. In her career, Kmieciak has earned three NACGC/W Regular Season All-America honors and is a two-time NCAA All-American so far.
As she enters the final weekend of her collegiate career, Kmieciak is finishing at the top of her game, Kindler says. This season, Kmieciak has competed on floor and as an all-arounder for the first time since she was a freshman.
“This is the best gymnastics that she has done her entire career, so that’s so exciting to see, and I think that that resonates with people,” Kindler shares. “When gymnasts walk in the door, I want them to aspire to get better every single year, and Keeley has shown that that’s not only possible, but probable if you have your mindset in the right place.”
According to Kindler, Scaman has an “amazing star quality about her” and is an athlete who carries the same demeanor every day, always pushing herself and working hard both in and out of the gym, traits that gains the attention of her teammates.
“She’s just a very disciplined young lady, and she’s someone that our entire team looks up to,” Kindler says. “We ask them lots of questions over the course of the year. We ask her teammates questions, and Haley’s name always comes up when they’re talking about people they aspire to be like. To me, that’s the largest compliment you can get from a teammate.”
Scaman’s long list of individual accolades includes being a four-time NCAA All-American, six-time NACGC/W Regular Season All-American, 2015 South Central Region Gymnast of the Year and two-time Big 12 Gymnast of the Year, just to name a few. Recently, Scaman was named a finalist for the prestigious AAI Award, which recognizes the most outstanding senior gymnast in the country. Impressively, Scaman has competed in each and every meet of her OU career.
Even with all the personal accomplishments, Scaman emphasizes that the success she has experienced with her teammates is what she values the most.
“It’s awesome to have that (all the accolades), but I think the thing that means the most to me is winning the national championship as a team and all the success we’ve had as a team. What I’ve done has helped the team, so I think that’s pretty cool.”
Both Scaman and Kmieciak have enjoyed significant individual success and both have perfect 10.0s to their names. Scaman has earned a total of five throughout her decorated career, including two on vault and three on floor, making her the only Sooner to earn multiple 10.0s on multiple events. At this year’s Big 12 Championships, Kmieciak achieved the milestone for the first time, even receiving the perfect score from all four judges.
“Their names are going to be on the walls of this program,” Kindler says. “They’re going to be in the record books forever. You can’t exceed a 10.0, so they’re always going to hold that record for this program. Their names will never be erased from our record books, and that is such a cool accomplishment … They’ve just done so much, and it’s more than just their accolades, obviously. It’s all the other things that they’ve contributed that I will remember, but certainly the new people coming in will see their names everywhere.”
WRITING ONE MORE CHAPTER
When it comes to the future of the Oklahoma women’s gymnastics program, both Kmieciak and Scaman share that they think it is very bright and that they are honored to be a part of the OU family and to have had the chance to put a stamp on the program, including being the part of the first national championship team.
“In the future, they have great recruits coming in, and I think we kind of set the tone of getting that first national championship and showing that it is possible,” Scaman says. “I think it’s only going to go up from here … The talent coming in is amazing, so I think it’s just going to keep going up and up and up.”
“I think that people coming in have a lot to live up to,” Kmieciak says. “To be part of this program, and we have so much talent coming in the next few years that I think they are going to live up to the standard. They’re going to win national championships to come.”
Both Scaman and Kmieciak express the pride they feel at being a part of the Oklahoma program and being able to contribute to its numerous successes during their four years wearing the Crimson and Cream.
“It’s such an honor and dream come true to be part of all of that, the growing success of this program, and K.J. has done so much for this team,” Kmieciak shares. “She’s so good at recruiting people that fit in well, and just our team as a whole, looking back, they’re like my sisters and my best friends, and I’m just so honored to be a part of that.”
“I’m already so proud of everything we’ve accomplished these past four years that I’ve been on the team,” Scaman echoes. “In a couple years, I think they’re only going to have way more success, so I’ll be really proud to know I was someone who helped build that foundation of the OU women’s gymnastics team.”
While both Kmieciak and Scaman are excited to see what lies in store for the Sooners, the senior duo still has one more chapter of its own to write.
When it comes to the 2016 version of the Sooners, Scaman shares that chemistry has been key this season, which will be beneficial when OU takes the competition floor at this weekend’s NCAA Championships.
“How our team works, just everything about our team, we all get along so great,” Scaman explains. “We push each other to the limits every day in practice and we have really good chemistry, and I think that’s helping a lot and all our success this year, moving forward into nationals.”
OU will compete in Friday night’s second semifinal as it looks to punch a ticket to its sixth all-time Super Six appearance. That means there are potentially two more meets in which Scaman and Kmieciak can make an impact and leave a stamp on the OU program.
As for the opportunity to win another national title?
“(It would be a) dream come true,” Kmieciak says. “That would be perfect way to end my career in gymnastics.”
But Kindler says that no matter the outcome this weekend, these two Sooners have so much of which to be proud.
“There’s an unspoken goal, obviously, for this national championship, but I honestly believe that they have left it all out on the table,” Kindler states. “I don’t think that they’re going to walk away from that meet, no matter what happens, and be disappointed. They can’t be because they put so much of their heart and soul into every single moment here that that final night is the culmination of an amazing career for both of them.
“I know they’re going to give it their best that night, but no matter what happens, they can walk away from this career, from Oklahoma, from gymnastics and they can feel not only accomplished, not only successful, but completely and totally satisfied that they did everything they possibly could for their teammates and for themselves.”