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OU women's gymnastics: Sooners' dreams of back to back titles 'devastated' by coronavirus pandemic

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K.J Kindler

Coach K.J Kindler watches one of the floor routines during the Sooners meet against Michigan March 6.

OU head coach K.J. Kindler admitted she never thought it could happen.

The No. 1 ranked Sooners were in the middle of practice on Thursday and were firing on all cylinders as they continued to prepare for another title run. Then, Kindler got a phone call from sports information director Lindsey Morrison.

The National Collegiate Women's Gymnastics Championships were canceled.

Remaining calm, Kindler allowed her gymnasts to finish the rotation they were on before gathering them together, but grief set in right away as she shared the tragic news.

"Our seniors immediately broke down and were devastated," Kindler said. "I don’t think anyone really saw it coming."

Already OU's Saturday meet in Minnesota and the upcoming Big 12 Championships in West Virginia had been canceled due to coronavirus-related concerns.

The Sooners were still clinging to the hope that they'd get to vie for their second-straight title and their fifth in seven years in Fort Worth, Texas, in April, even if it was in front of limited attendance.

With one ring of the phone those dreams were crushed.

Along with that sorrow comes uncertainty. The NCAA says it is considering extended eligibility for winter sport athletes such as OU seniors Maggie Nichols, Jade Degouveia, and Bre Showers, but Kindler pointed out that those benefits won't work for every athlete.

While Showers had already intended to medically retire at seasons' end due to multiple injuries, the rest of Nichols' and Degouveia's careers were swept right out from under them.

Kindler says the duo is probably still processing the possibility of a return, citing their already established plans for furthering their education at OU next year, along with the physical strain of continuing to perform beyond a typical gymnastics age as difficult factors in a potential decision to keep competing.

"If it is (an opportunity) I don’t know whether they would take it or not," Kindler said. "I think that’s something that is going to be a personal decision for both of them." 

Also unclear is the future of Kindler's squad as a whole. The NCAA has banned all sports practices until April 6. Kindler is allowing her gymnasts to go home or stay in Norman, whichever they please, but she cannot continue to train them at this time. 

In a year-round sport like gymnastics, a hiatus from workouts like the one the Sooners face may prove detrimental to their continued success. It could be a tall task for the team to regroup before the start of the 2021 season in light of all that is transpiring.

"We’re going to have to be very thoughtful about how we bring them back," Kindler said, "But they need to stay motivated. They need to stay in tune with their bodies even more while they’re gone."

Equally murky as what is to come for the program is what could have been. The Sooners were 16-0 on the season and were the only team in the country with a national qualifying score above 198.

OU had been ranked No. 1 in every week, and appeared to be a lock to repeat as undefeated NCAA champions.

"In their coaches eyes, they’re the national champions," Kindler said. "We feel like that’s all we can look at them as."

But even with that triumphant mindset, the effects of recent events don't become any easier to deal with.

"We certainly know that this decision was made for the health and welfare of people everywhere all througout America," Kindler said. "We understand that, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see your dream fall through your fingers."

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