ST. LOUIS, Mo. — One of the things Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler wanted from her team after the semifinal was to be calm at the start of the 2017 Women’s National Collegiate Gymnastics Championships.
As the cliché goes, the Sooners were calm, cool and collected when they hit the floor on the uneven parallel bars Saturday evening in front of a charged-up crowd of 6,057 at Chaifetz Arena. They scored a 49.5875 and the Sooners’ best came in the next rotation.
“They were completely at ease,” Kindler said. “They got in that place and they were in a special place.”Capped by a perfect 10 from freshman Maggie Nichols, Oklahoma scored a national championship record of 49.70 on the balance beam, eclipsing the old mark of 49.60 by UCLA in 2004.
“It was amazing to get that 10 just because I had that mistake yesterday,” Nichols said. “I wanted to show everyone I could help our team.”
LSU later broke the balance beam record with a score of 49.725, but it wasn’t near enough to help the Tigers close in on Oklahoma. That was how special the Sooners’ performance was Saturday evening.
The first two events the Sooners competed in gave the Sooners a lead that they did not relinquish as they repeated as national champions. The Sooners have now won three national titles in the last four years. They shared the title with Florida in 2014.
Oklahoma finished with a score of 198.3875, followed by LSU with a score of 197.7375 and Florida finished third with a score of 197.700.
“We did have a feeling it was going to be a special night,” said Oklahoma senior Chayse Capps. “For this entire championship, our saying has been, 'end on empty,' and that is exactly what we wanted to do. Going out there and being able to accomplish that was incredible.”
After sparkling performances in their first two events, the Sooners were just as dynamic in the floor exercise. Senior Charity Jones got it rolling with a 9.875 and it only got better from there.
Bringing it back to Norman! pic.twitter.com/YRVXfddhuu— Oklahoma Women's Gym (@OU_WGymnastics) April 16, 2017
“I am so blessed to be on this team and to win back-to-back national championships is something we worked hard for all season,” Jones said. “This team is truly special.”
Junior Natalie Brown and sophomore Brenna Dowell followed Jones and each scored 9.9. Capps took it up another notch with a 99.125 and Nichols topped that by scoring 9.95. Junior AJ Jackson concluded the floor exercise for Oklahoma with a 9.9.
“I love our seniors,” Jackson said. “They are one of a kind. They push us to be our best and they led us to be here.”
The consistently strong performance by Oklahoma on the floor exercise earned the Sooners a 49.6125.
Oklahoma finished its evening on the vault and the final two were nearly flawless. Jackson scored a 9.95 and Nichols a 9.9625.
Before the championship round started Saturday evening, the Sooners knew they had to be better than they were in the semifinals on Friday. After they competed in Semifinal #1, they watched what LSU did in semifinal #2.
“We saw how amazing LSU was and they really knocked it out of the park,” Kindler said. “Our coaching staff really worked hard to come up with a way to flip the switch for our team, coming off kind of an average performance for us yesterday.”
Winning another national title calls for a dance party! pic.twitter.com/h1Cyi1JC9e— Oklahoma Women's Gym (@OU_WGymnastics) April 16, 2017
To get mentally ready to face the challenge of LSU, the Sooners met on four separate occasions to get focused for Saturday.
When Capps scored a 9.85 as the first gymnast to perform for Oklahoma in the uneven parallel bars, Kindler knew the Sooners were ready to roll.
“The very first bar routine, that first dismount was going to be huge for us,” Kindler said. “Chayse set the tone for the whole meet. She was having trouble on her dismount in warmups. At meet time, she flipped the switch and nailed the dismount.”
And what happened after that.
“They were just rolling,” Kindler said. “We had just amazing performance after amazing performance. It felt crazy. I almost felt I wasn’t here. It was that amazing.”