By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Oklahoma doesn’t get too worried. It has seen everything possible that can occur at a gymnastics meet.
However, when it comes to competing in the NCAA regional championships, coach K.J. Kindler admits she and her team get a little anxious.
“This meet is probably the most stressful of the year,” she said. “Even as coaches we make a conscious effort to stay loose. I know they have to try and stay loose and not let themselves get all wrapped up in what it means because they want it so bad and it means so much to them.”
But when OU found itself trailing by 48 points heading into the final event of the regional championships Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center, the nation’s second ranked team wasn’t about to start getting skittish.
Led by Taylor Spears and Brie Olson, OU racked up a team score of 197.375 to win the regional title and earn a birth into the NCAA National Championships.
“It’s our fourth straight year of winning a regional,” Kindler said. “I don’t think it ever gets old. I think it’s awesome. I think it says a lot for how far our program has come and where we are going.”
Spears won the All-Around title. It was the eighth time this year she has claimed the top individual prize. The junior credits the fans for pushing her along.
“They were great,” Spears said of the fans. “They were right there with us the whole time, cheering for every routine. You look up and see them all cheering for you. It’s a great feeling. It’s truly important. They make us perform better.”
Along with Oklahoma, Stanford (196.800) also advanced to nationals for the sixth time in seven years. Both squads propelled themselves past Washington (195.925) and Penn State (195.875) on the final rotation of the evening.
It was Washington’s Paige Bixler’s last chance to make it to nationals. And the prospect of not getting another opportunity to suit up again made it an emotional conclusion to her career.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Bixler said. “I’m so happy that my team did so well. It’s great to go out on a good note. But I’ve done this my whole life and now I’m done. I don’t really know what to think.”
Stanford advanced to its ninth NCAA championship. But according to coach Kristen Smyth, this may have been the toughest in her time with the program.
“They fought the whole night,” Smyth said. “It was not an easy meet by any means. They did a great job of covering each other and standing up tall when they needed to.”
The Sooners were on vault in the first rotation. It had been the weakest of the events for the Sooners for much of the season. But Madison Mooring pulled out 9.925 to lead the OU attack out of the gate.
“Our theme tonight on vault was go big,” Kindler said. “We wanted to see really big vaults and focus on the landings. We definitely wanted to see really big vaults.”
OU kept on the attack when it got to the uneven bars. Spears gave the partisan crowd a boost when she flew off the bars and stuck her landing. The Big 12 gymnast of the year had a giant smile on her face and ran into the arms of her teammates. The crowd erupted even before they showed her score of 9.9.
Heading into the sixth and final rotation, the Sooners stood in third place with 147.950 points. They trailed both Washington and Penn State, who were done for the evening.
OU needed to get at least a team score of 48 to hold onto the title. Unfortunately for the rest of the competition, the Sooners lead the nation with an average score of 49.470 on the floor exercises.
Oklahoma didn’t disappoint. With the home fans chanting “O-U,” the Sooners scored a 49.25.
It was Olson who pushed the Sooners into first with her score of 9.99. Both she and teammate Haley Scaman had the highest scores on the event.
“We never really look at the scores going into any event,” Olson said. “We just know what we have to do and perform our best.”
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