March 22, 2010
NORMAN, Okla. - Inside Gymnastics recently caught up with OU women's gymnastics coach K.J. Kindler following Oklahoma's regular season finale at No. 6 Arkansas. The Sooners capped off their second undefeated regular season in three years and now set sights on a third-straight Big 12 Championship's crown. Below is a glimpse of the Q&A:
SOONER OR LATER
When coach K.J. Kindler came to Oklahoma from Iowa State four years ago, she was fresh off the Cyclones first-ever Super Six appearance and determined to make the same magic happen at OU.
Now, with an undefeated regular season that included several NCAA-record scores, a takedown of No. 1 Alabama on the Sooner’s home turf, and OU’s first-ever stint at the top of the gymnastics rankings, Kindler’s dream seems set to become reality.
The question now is: How far can the No.2-ranked Sooners go?
Inside caught up with Kindler for a chat with many experts’ pick for college gymnastics’ Coach of the Year …
INSIDE: You just completed an amazing season in which you notched several OU gymnastics firsts. Obviously, you’re focused on the post-season, but can you enjoy the level of success you’ve already achieved?
K.J. KINDLER: You enjoy it in the moment, but a coach’s mind is always turning, looking to the next thing.
INSIDE: You’re a team that, before the season began, not a lot of people would have predicted would be in this position. What makes it even more incredible is that you actually came into this year having lost some of your big stars, for instance former National Team member Haley Horton (DeProspero). How did you make such a shift without gaining a slew of sought after recruits?
KINDLER: I think that [our success] wasn’t necessarily a surprise, at least to me. We put in a lot of hard work. I don’t mind being in this position, as far as preseason [rankings] go. You have to show you can be up there, year in and year out, and we haven’t done that. At least not yet.
Haley was the consummate leader. She always led by example. She always did the right thing. She was a model teammate. But, for some reason, this group of four [seniors] has had a little bit of spark and fire—a tenacity—and they bring that with them into every meet.
The reason I wasn’t surprised about how well we were doing is because of our senior class. They have embraced their position. They’ve really stepped it up and everyone is following them. Good leadership can never be underestimated.
And our freshmen have contributed a lot. … Kayla (Nowak) and Brie (Olson) have really blossomed in this environment. I think people underestimated our freshmen.
INSIDE: This is the first season U.S. world medalist Natasha Kelley has been able to compete as a Sooner after tearing her Achilles just weeks before the 2009 season. And this year she’s doing it with a torn ACL. How is she doing it?
KINDLER: Honestly? She just loves gymnastics. She is so passionate. When [she tore her ACL in November] all I could think was, ‘Not again.’ She’s got a rod in her leg [which ended her Elite career], she tore her Achilles right after our intrasquad [in 2008] and now, again, right on the cusp of the season, she gets hurt.
You know, you work so hard in the pre-season and the season is the reward, really. I felt like she was being robbed. Again.
I didn’t know what to expect when the doctors released her. She started on bars and we just added from there. She has no pain, no swelling, and there is no other damage to the ligaments or meniscus in the knee. She was very fortunate [that] it was a very isolated knee injury. … The doctors have said her ACL leg is actually 10 percent stronger than her non-ACL leg.
I know there’s a lot of speculation or concern about her doing this, but the doctors wouldn’t release her unless it’s safe for her, and the bottom line is that she wants it. It’s her body and her decision and I told her from the beginning that I would support whatever she would decide.
INSIDE: Will Kelley have her knee fixed as soon as the season is over?
KINLDER: I don’t know. I don’t know what the plan is at this point.
INSIDE: Senior Hollie Vise, a World gold medalist in 2003, has emerged as a major NCAA star this season after some rough going early in her college career. What inspired that change?
KINDLER: It’s very interesting. I feel like she wants to go out on top.
You know, through all the ups and downs, Hollie has embraced this experience. I know a lot of people said she wasn’t very serious about college gymnastics cause she didn’t stay in shape or come in prepared. But I think she’s proving them wrong.
People are saying it’s a shame she couldn’t have been like this from day one but, you know, I don’t think I want that Hollie. I want this one. She’s gone though so much and she’s had to push. And it’s been a struggle; coming from where she was when she came in that door, to be quite honest. She’s learned life lessons and I think she’s a better person because of it.
[Our relationship] was tough love at first. I think she had certain expectations, being recruited by [former OU coach Steve Nunno]; what she was told would be expected of her. But I let her know right away that my expectations were different.
I knew she was an amazing gymnast and I expected that from her, on all four events, not one or two. I think that was shocking. But once she knew that it was that or the highway, she pushed through and we have a great relationship. I think she respects [me] and I certainly respect the hard work she’s gone through to get to this point.
You know, she could have given up, gone somewhere else, or just quit, and she didn’t. She’s really impressed everyone around her. I am very impressed with Hollie.
I definitely think [Natasha and Hollie are] the swagger of the team. The confidence. They certainly provide our best routines on several events, but the great thing is that they have absolutely no ego, either of them. To me, that makes a huge difference. They put the team first and they do a great job of that.
I would say they’re the core of the team. But not having an all-arounder, this is such a team effort. From top to bottom, every single athlete is giving everything they have.
To read the full transcript of the Q&A session, click here: http://www.insidegymnastics.com/content/show/newsarticle.aspx?articleid=767&zoneid=1