Dalton, OU eye team gymnastics title
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2012
4/19/12 at 5:21 AM
NORMAN - Oklahoma's Jake Dalton, the best gymnast on the nation's best team, was once a pitcher. He was 6 years old at the time, and his little league coach suggested gymnastics as a means to build a stronger base of motor skills.
It was a fine idea. It just didn't work out the way the coach figured.
"The next thing I know I'm competing at both gymnastics and baseball," Dalton said. "We lived kind of far from my gym, so I had to choose between the two. I ended up picking gymnastics and have been going with it ever since."
Now an OU junior, Dalton leads the No. 1 Sooners into the three-day NCAA Championship beginning Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m. at the Lloyd Noble Center. Team finals including No. 2 Penn State, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 Illinois are Friday night, with individual event finals concluding Saturday night.
Dalton won NCAA titles in the vault and floor exercise last year. On Saturday, he'll shoot for an all-around championship as the nation's top-ranked all-around gymnast.
He'll be even busier this summer with the USA Gymnastics championship and U.S. Olympic Qualifier, both in June.
For the moment, however, Dalton's priorities are with the Sooners, who are pursuing their first national title since 2008.
"Last year I won floor and vault and All-American'd on (parallel) bars and high bar. That was cool, but we finished second," he said. "It's the team national championship you're always looking for."
Dalton's role on this year's OU team is crucial, and not just because of his gymnastics.
"He's our biggest talent for sure, and he has become a tremendous leader for this team," Sooners coach Mark Williams said. "It's not something he comes by naturally, but he has become a little more vocal in the locker room. He understands what the team needs to do to be successful. He has found that in order for that to happen, he has to be more aware of everybody, not just his own gymnastics."
Dalton captains a team featuring 10 freshmen. And if they can't always do what Dalton can, they can certainly glean from him.
"I try to take the experience I've learned the past two and a half years and pass it along to them," he said.
The quiet kid Williams signed out of Reno, Nev., three years ago isn't so withdrawn anymore. He is, however, every bit the talent Williams figured he was getting.
"When I saw him at the junior national championships, I knew he was the best guy that was coming out," Williams said. "I thought his potential and raw talent was going to translate not only to my NCAA team, but I thought for sure he could make it on the senior national team and beyond."
That has been the plan ever since. It could culminate first this weekend in Norman, then again this summer on the national/Olympic qualifying circuit.
The gymnast has come a long way from little league.
"Those pitchers make a lot of money," Dalton said with a laugh when asked if he ever thought about his first sport. "But I'm glad I stuck with this."
Beginning 1 p.m. Thursday
Lloyd Noble Center, Norman
Original Print Headline: Dalton, OU eye team title
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355