|OU Team Highs|
NORMAN — The defending national champion Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team entered its 2017 season refocused and ready to embark on a title defense. On Friday, the No. 1 Sooners got off to a good start, shining in a 197.750-196.700 victory over No. 3 Alabama in front of 3,515 fans inside Lloyd Noble Center.
The Sooners, whose score represents the highest season-opening total in program history, secured event titles on vault, bars and floor and claimed the top individual score on those three events as well. Freshman Maggie Nichols made her presence known in her debut in the Crimson and Cream, posting an impressive 39.725 all-around score.
Nichols also snagged event titles on bars (9.975) and floor (9.95) and recorded a team-high 9.9 on beam, while sophomore Brenna Dowell's career-high 9.95 on vault earned her the top mark on the apparatus.
The Sooners started out strong on vault, posting six scores of at least 9.825 to take a 49.450-49.325 advantage. Dowell, who deferred last season to compete with Team USA at 2015 World Championships and 2016 Olympic Trials, nailed her Yurchenko 1 ½ vault for a career-high 9.95.
Senior Chayse Capps and Nichols both added solid 9.9 marks, while junior AJ Jackson contributed a 9.875 in the No. 5 spot. In the leadoff spot, senior Charity Jones started off the season with a 9.825, a score sophomore Alex Marks matched in the next routine.
“On vault I was super impressed with the sticks," Kindler stated. "Brenna stuck her Yurchenko 1 1/2, which is extremely difficult to do, especially with all that adrenaline and everything going on. A lot of times you’ll see that little step forward, especially here in the beginning because you’re all pumped up, but she was able to nail it, so that was awesome."
On bars, the Sooners looked in mid-season form, rolling to a 49.575, tied for the fifth-best score on the event in program history. Capps set the tone right from the start, starting with a big 9.9, a score junior Stefani Catour, sophomore Nicole Lehrmann, senior McKenzie Wofford and Dowell all matched for the home squad. As the anchor, Nichols put together an impressive routine, sticking her landing for a huge 9.975 to put an exclamation on the rotation for the Sooners.
“On bars I was obviously very impressed," recalled Kindler. "Looking back there were a couple of dismounts I think we could have been sharper on. I know McKenzie is always this close to a 10 on bars when she sticks her dismount. That was just a little step there, and Brenna had a little bounce too, but overall, really good performances on bars."
In the third rotation, the Sooners added a 49.225 on beam, while Alabama added a 49.025 on floor, giving OU a 148.250-147.350 lead going into the final routines. Nichols posted the top mark for OU on the event, doing so with a 9.9 in the No. 5 spot. Catour and Capps both contributed steady 9.85s, while Jones provided a 9.825 as the leadoff routine.
"On balance beam we were really good starting routines I thought, there were just steps on dismounts and that’s something we’ll zero in on more as we go," Kindler stated.
Oklahoma closed strong on floor, capping them meet with a 49.500 to stretch their lead, while the Crimson Tide added a 49.350 on beam. Nichols posted the highest Sooner score for the third event of the night, concluding with a 9.95. Capps tallied a strong 9.925 in the No. 4 spot, while Jackson and Jones both posted marks of 9.9.
“Floor is an event that I think fitness wise and stamina wise we need to get better on," said Kindler. "We’ll get better as the year goes on. It’s nice to get that first one done. Doing floor last when you have all that adrenaline going on, it’s difficult to do, so overall I was very pleased with the competition. Alabama is a great team, so to get that win is great.”
Next weekend, the Sooners continue their home slate, welcoming No. 4 UCLA to the Lloyd Noble Center on Sunday, Jan. 15. The meet is set for a 3:45 p.m. CT start. Tickets are available for purchase online or by calling the OU Athletics Tickets Office at (405) 325-2424 or toll-free at (800) 456-GoOU.