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OU women's gymnastics: Emma LaPinta's confidence, hard work produces impressive run on floor

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Emma LaPinta

Sophomore Emma LaPinta during the meet against Iowa State University on Jan. 31.

No. 1 Oklahoma currently ranks third in the nation on floor exercise in 2020, a feat many schools in the NCAA only dream of, but floor is an area that has been somewhat in flux for the Sooners so far this year.

OU limped to a season-worst score (49.125) in its last meet against No. 18 Iowa State, but also logged the third best mark in the nation to date (49.575) in its home opener against No. 15 Arkansas on Jan. 20.

Though Oklahoma's results in the discipline have been mixed to a degree, one Sooner who has put together a consistent run on the event early is sophomore Emma LaPinta.

LaPinta has yet to compete on an event other than floor since arriving at OU. As a freshman in 2019, she appeared in nine meets for the Sooners, and notched a steady score of 9.8 or higher in six of those competitions.

Even with that success, OU head coach K.J. Kindler said the underclassman still went through a big transition during that time. A lot has changed for LaPinta since then, and Kindler believes it's made her a better gymnast. 

"I think last year was a very big change for her onto a very big stage, and I think that intimidated her a little bit," Kindler said, "But this year she seems to have greater confidence in herself and her abilities, and when she steps out on the floor you can actually see that coming out of her."

That new confidence has been evident in LaPinta's performance in her sophomore season, as she is well on her way to surpassing her freshman totals having participated in five of the Sooners' six contests while scoring 9.8 or above in all of those meets.

She also earned a new career high of 9.9 against Arizona State on Jan. 11, and then replicated that mark against No. 5 Alabama on Jan. 17.

According to LaPinta, her hard work over the summer and the consistent encouragement from her coaches has also helped her along this stretch.

"The coaches were really great at reminding me that whatever you put your mind to, you can do, and so I really focused on that over the summer and came out with good confidence," LaPinta said.

Another part of LaPinta's improvement has come from observing her teammates. She's gotten to watch several talented gymnasts in the past two years, including standout seniors Maggie Nichols and Jade Degouveia and junior all-arounder Anastasia Webb.

"They're all amazing," LaPinta said. "I've always looked up to them, and it's easy to look at them in the floor lineup and see the amazing things they're doing."

As LaPinta continues to grow, the older gymnasts are now taking notice of her work and her success.

Nichols in particular has come to recognize her teammate's intensity in her preparation, and the correlation between her practice and her results.

"In the gym she's very dialed in, very down to each detail, and that's really helping her when she goes out and competes," Nichols said. 

LaPinta's work in the gym helped her against Iowa State last Saturday, as she posted a solid 9.8 on a day where OU's floor group was not as dominant as in previous meets.

For OU to improve on that outing in the coming weeks, it will take refinement across the board, but LaPinta's ability to sustain her recent performances will be equally paramount to the unit's success in the future.

But it's not just the athletic skills that are making LaPinta a key part of Oklahoma's group on floor. Kindler said her positivity and team spirit are also part of what makes her a crucial asset moving forward.

"It's not just her gymnastics," Kindler said. "That is her main contribution, but she has an incredible attitude. She's very uplifting and she's an incredible teammate."

While her streak of consistent performances may come to an end at some point this season, her future beyond 2020 is bright. Her growing prowess on floor and her unbreakable spirit are priming her to be a fixture in Kindler's lineup in the years to come.

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