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Keeker is the Beavers' walk-on captain

CORVALLIS — Taylor Keeker never really had any doubts about where she wanted to wind up for her college gymnastics career.

Keeker grew up in Salem, so she spent plenty of winter weekends in Corvallis at Oregon State home meets.

She watched gymnasts such as Mandi Rodriguez and Tasha Smith and aspired to be like them.

"Just being in Gill on the audience side and seeing how many fans they get and seeing how much fun they have on the floor definitely was a deciding factor in wanting to come here," Keeker said. "I knew that I wanted to be down on that floor one day."

OSU will host Stanford at 7 tonight in Gill Coliseum.

As a club gymnast, Keeker showed talent on the uneven bars at the Junior Olympic nationals, finishing second in 2009 and eighth in 2010 and 11.

Her success piqued the interest of a few other schools and she made some visits, but was not swayed from OSU.

That meant joining the Beavers as a walk-on.

"I thought Taylor was a good gymnast in high school, definitely we saw the potential," OSU assistant coach Michael Chaplin said.

"We're a very strong team and you never know once they come to Oregon State how they'll do, how big their heart is, how hard they'll work. But we definitely saw some potential there."

Chaplin said Keeker did very well on the physical test, but her work ethic stood out.

Keeker's willingness to put in the work has enabled her to take the step from alternate to rotation regular on bars and vault.

Now a junior, Keeker is a part of OSU's lineup on those two events, and a team captain.

"I've seen her over the past few years thrive and succeed in practice, so she works really hard and just works at things until she gets them and she has improved so much over the past couple of years," junior Kailie Ponto said.

"So it's really good to see that she's broken into those lineups and with that progression going from not in lineups to a key spot in lineup, she's perfect for a captain."

Breaking into the lineup as a walk-on was quite an accomplishment for Keeker.

With 16 gymnasts and six spots on an event, the competition can be fierce to get there and then stick.

"It's a lot of hard work to get into those lineups," Keeker said.

"Everyone just pushes each other and you have to take it day by day and so I did."

Keeker said she's surprised, but not too much so, that she arrived at this point.

"I've always strived to be a leader on teams and I was a leader on my club team. It's a really long journey and it's an honor to be a captain and to be in lineups," she said. "But you almost have to expect it in order for it to happen."

At UCLA, Keeker had a career-best 9.900 on vault. Last week against Iowa State, she had a 9.800 on bars.

She has been consistent on both events, with a low score of 9.750.

While some gymnasts hit their peak during club, Keeker said she has blossomed more in the sport and is doing more difficult routines since coming to Oregon State and experiencing the coaching and support system.

"It's definitely kind of a reverse for me where normally people maybe water down their routines for college and make them clean ," Keeker said. "But I definitely strive to get my 10.0 vault and get a big dismount on bars, just those little things I was never able to do in club."