By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team has a secret. It’s one that seemingly no one on campus or around the state has found out over the last few years no matter how much they’ve let it slip.
The big secret is that the second-ranked Sooners are good. Not just good, but one of the best teams in the nation over the past four seasons.
“When I came to Oklahoma we wanted to break into the Super Six, which we did my freshman year,” senior Brie Olson said. “We ended up finishing second. We just wanted to prove that Oklahoma has a chance to win a national championship because they are bringing in top recruits and they are performing the same as Florida, UCLA, Georgia and Alabama. But we don’t get quite the recognition that other teams do because we don’t have the big names. But we are just as good.”
However, while Oklahoma has raised its game to compete with the powerhouses in the SEC and PAC-12, there is one area it’s still lagging way behind. That’s in attendance. Getting fans to come out and watch the Sooners compete has been a battle coach K.J. Kindler has fought since she arrived in 2006.
“Honestly, it’s possibly one of our biggest tasks and one of our most difficult tasks,” Kindler said. “I don’t think selling gymnastics is difficult. It’s a beautiful sport. When people come to watch it, they just want to come back. But getting that first-time viewer, someone to come in one time and just realize what an amazing thing it is.”
In 2012, the University of Utah led all of women’s gymnastics in attendance with an average of 13,515 fans per home meet. The SEC rounded out the top four with Alabama (12,826), Georgia (8,768), Florida (6,126) and Auburn (4,520). Oklahoma was 18th with 1,622 fans per home meet. The only other team from the Big 12 in the top-20 was Iowa State.
“We are a top team and not a lot of students know this,” Olson said. “And they’ve never experienced it. If they do, they will love it. Especially college. You don’t have to be quiet. You can be as crazy as you want. We don’t get as many fans as football, but it’s just as exciting because you get to be there with your fellow students.”
The program has seen a slow and steady increase in attendance over the years. In the Sooners’ first home meet of the year, they drew close to 2,500 fans and were was able to get more than 2,200 to come to last week’s Perfect 10 Challenge in Oklahoma City.
But the true test for where the gymnastics team stands in the state will come Friday when it hosts No. 5 UCLA in a battle of top-five teams. It’s the biggest meet of the regular season for OU.
“If that doesn’t bring in everybody, I don’t know what will,” Kindler said. “There is no reason someone shouldn’t get off their couch, stand up, shuffle to their car and drive straight to Lloyd Noble. It’s going to be a great event.”
With six titles the Bruins are one of only four programs to ever win a women’s national title. They also kept OU from winning its first and only championship in 2010 when they edged them out by a score of 197.725 to 197.250.
Kindler has set the bar high on what she expects to see in the LNC stands at 7 p.m. Friday.
“A win is 4,000 people,” Kindler said. “We brought in about 2,500 our first meet and the energy was amazing. I can imagine where we would be if we had 4,000 plus. We’ve been to at least three meets this year on the road that had over 5,500 people. The energy is electric. Athletes love to compete under that kind of roof. To have that at home, it would be incredible.”
The NCAA seems think the Sooners have the ability to draw large numbers. Lloyd Noble Center was chosen as one of six sites to host an NCAA Championships regional tournament April 6. Olson says one day the Sooners will start packing the fans in at home meets to where they match their SEC rivals because they already have the talent to match them. Now they just need the fans to take notice.
“My freshman year when I came in we were pulling in only a 1,000 fans,” Olson said. “It has grown so much already. Our first home meet this year, I walked in and felt it. It gave me goose bumps because of how much it has changed in the last four years. I can’t wait to see how much it will change and how much support we will get in the next four years.”
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