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OU women's gymnastics: Sooners defeat Arkansas in home opener behind Maggie Nichols' spectacular performance

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Maggie Nichols

Senior Maggie Nichols celebrates her vault routine during the Sooners' meet against Arkansas Jan. 20. Nichols scored a Perfect 10 on this event.

As senior gymnast Maggie Nichols stuck her landing off the vault apparatus in the first rotation of No. 1 Oklahoma's 198.175-196.500 home opener win over No. 19 Arkansas on Monday afternoon, the crowd of over 4,000 inside the Lloyd Noble Center roared to life.

At that moment, the volume inside OU's friendly confines reached incredible heights. Yet, it would still get louder.

Eventually, the initial praise died down as fans waited for Nichols' score, but tension began to build once again as the judges began to adjust their scorecards.

As the decision makers prepared to present their marks to the audience, the shouts of Sooner faithful began to rise once again, demanding that Oklahoma's star gymnast be rewarded for her performance.

The crowd got its wish.

Exuberant celebration engulfed the arena, as the judges presented a score of 10.0, Nichols' second perfect mark on vault in as many meets, and the 19th faultless tally of her career.

That singular performance and the crowd's response would be the defining moments of another dominant victory for the Sooners.

OU head coach K.J. Kindler was quick to recognize the audience's effect on her team's performance following the meet.

"I did hear that the attendance was around 4,400. It felt like more than that, which is a good thing for the athletes," Kindler said. "They felt good energy."

This 'good energy' surrounded Nichols' first routine and propelled the Sooners to a commanding lead, one from which they would never look back.

Thanks to Nichols' 10.0 and back-to-back 9.9's from senior Jade Degouveia and junior Anastasia Webb, the Sooners held a 49.525-49.025 advantage after the first rotation.

On bars, scores of 9.95 from Nichols, Degouveia, and junior Karrie Thomas pushed OU's edge to 99.200-98.275.

OU would keep its grip on first place on the balance beam thanks to Nichols' 9.975, and closed out the victory via the same score on floor from its steady senior.

Nichols would go on to win the all-around for the third straight meet with a personal mark of 39.900.

It was a stellar showing for the all-time great, who continued to preach a message of all-out effort following her big day.

"When I compete, I just try to do my best gymnastics, and when I stuck that landing I just hoped to get the best score that I can, so to see that 10.0 come up it just means the absolute world, and just the hard work paying off," Nichols said.

Nichols looks to bring home the NCAA All-Around title for the third time in her college career in April. As her final season of collegiate gymnastics rolls on, she's trying to create the best possible outcome at every turn.

"Maggie's chasing 10's every time she steps on the floor," Kindler said of her center-stage performer.

Nichols will have ample opportunity to add some more flawless sums to her resume in 2020, but perhaps none will be remembered better than the one she posted on Monday afternoon in front of a host of adoring supporters.

"Best home opener I think we've ever had," Kindler said. "Really excited to see people come out on a Monday afternoon. I can't imagine on a Friday evening what that crowd's going to look like."

While OU's next meet may not be quite as vibrant as its last, the squad will still aim to put its best on display as it heads south this weekend to take on No. 4 Denver, No. 5 Alabama, and No. 18 Georgia at 7 p.m. CT Saturday, Jan. 25 in Ft. Worth, Texas.

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