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David Boyce | | April 14, 2017

Oklahoma, UCLA, Utah claim Super Six spots

  The Sooners led the way in the first semifinal to earn a spot in Saturday's finals.

ST. LOUIS — One of the more difficult things to do in any sport is to repeat as national champions. Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler saw a few of those jitters from her gymnasts when they started in the floor exercise.

It probably didn’t help the Sooners that they had a bye in the first rotation in the semifinals in the opening session of the 2017 Women’s National Collegiate Gymnastics Championships at the Chaifetz Arena.

Oklahoma scored a 49.3500 in the floor exercise and 49.3500 in the vault before finishing strong with a 49.525 in the uneven parallel bars and 49.5000 in the balance beam and that garnered the Sooners the top score of 197.725 in the first session.

More importantly, the overall performance puts Oklahoma in Saturday’s Super Six, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT and will be shown on ESPNU.

“It was tough out there for us,” Kindler said. “We started a little bit shaky on the floor, a lot of adrenaline, some landing bouncing and things like that.

“I felt like they really settled in after the beginning. At the beginning they were a little hyped up. They definitely need to calm down for tomorrow.”

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Oklahoma sophomore Nicole Lehrmann helped get the Sooners back on track, scoring a 9.95 on the uneven parallel bars and 9.85 on the balance beam.

“It went really well, and I am obviously happy about it,” Lehrmann said. “But that is in the past now. Hopefully, I will do better tomorrow for my team.

“Of course, everybody feels a lot of pressure, but a lot teams feel pressure differently. I think we handle pressure really well. We will use it to our advantage to boost us up and use that energy to make us even better.”

The other two teams who advanced to the Super Six were UCLA, which finished the first day with a score of 197.5000 and Utah, 197.0500.

Afterwards, coaches and student-athletes from the three teams sat together for the post-meet press conference, which makes collegiate gymnastics a bit unique from other sports. The coaches and gymnasts hear directly from each other what their opponents thought on the first day of competition.

“My husband is a football coach,” said UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field. “He asks why I am staying at the same hotel with the enemy. It is great because our sport lends itself to it. There is nothing we do that is going to affect these guys. Let’s just do us. I never bought into mind games and I don’t think they work. We have no offense and no defense.

“The sport lends itself to support beautiful gymnastics. Our first national championship we won, halfway through the meet, Georgia was on vault and we had a bye. They had [a gymnast] who did the most beautiful vault and our whole team ran down the runway to high-five her. I loved it.”

Friday afternoon there was plenty of beautiful performances by student-athletes who have competed in meets as big as the Olympic Trials and the Olympics.

One of those athletes was Utah freshman MyKayla Skinner, who finished the first session with the best all-around score of 39.6125.

“I am glad to be here with my team and seeing everybody and past teammates,” Skinner said. “It has been so much fun. I am ready to move on to tomorrow and try to kill it.”

Utah co-coach Tom Farden liked what he saw from his team and from all the gymnasts competing.

“It was a dogfight out there,” Farden said. “We are proud to be in the mix and move on to fight another day.

“There were a lot of great performances out there from a lot of great athletes from all teams and individuals. All these kids did beautiful gymnastics. It was just a treat to be out there with so many great teams.”

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