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OU women's gymnastics: 3 things to know ahead of meet with West Virginia, TWU

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K.J. Kindler and Maggie Nichols

Head coach K.J. Kindler talks to senior Maggie Nichols during the meet against Iowa State University on Jan. 31.

No. 1 Oklahoma (11-0, 1-0 Big 12) is set to compete against West Virginia (5-5, 0-1 Big 12) and Texas Woman's University (4-5) at the Lloyd Noble Center on Friday.

In their previous meet, the Sooners rolled to a dominant 197.900-195.225 win over TWU in Denton, Texas last Sunday.

Here's three things to know ahead of Friday's meet:

Protecting Maggie Nichols more important now than ever

Senior Maggie Nichols only competed on bars in the Sooners' last meet due to planned rest, and her workload has been increasingly light over the past few meets. The nation's top ranked all-arounder has not competed in the all-around since OU's home opener against Arkansas on Jan. 20.

Always a fierce competitor, Nichols would like to be participating in every event at every meet, but she knows the rest she is getting is vital to OU's title repeat aspirations.

"I think it'll benefit me a lot, just so I feel good towards the end of the season," Nichols said, "But when I'm not competing on other events, I want to go so bad."

Despite her urge to be present in all four lineups at all times, Nichols is also a team player, acknowledging that the situation creates opportunity for other gymnasts to succeed.

"It was a win-win situation just resting me and also letting other people get opportunities," Nichols said. "That was also good for the team and their growth too."

Ultimately, OU head coach K.J. Kindler said resting Nichols and keeping her healthy is more important now than ever.

"I don't want to push her in these moments of the season when at the end of the season it's going to be more detrimental to her contributing," Kindler said.

While she could be back on vault and beam in the near future, Kindler said that she doesn't expect Nichols to return to the all-around any time soon. The plan is to limit her work on floor until she can "practice more consistently and get some numbers in" on that event.

Ragan Smith determined to rebuild confidence on vault

Freshman Ragan Smith has been pouring her efforts into her improvement on vault this season, her weakest event on which she has somewhat of a haunting past.

In the 2017 Gymnastics World Championships she tore all the ligaments in her ankle during her vault warmup in the women's all-around final, forcing her to withdraw from a contest that she was heavily favored to win.

Now with that injury behind her, Smith is striving to rebuild her confidence on the event. While her mark of 9.7 in last Sunday's meet wasn't exceptional, she believes she's making progress.

"Even though that wasn't my best vault, I was doing really good vaults in the warmups," Smith said. "I just need to trust myself more."

While Kindler said that Smith needs to make even more improvements yet this season, she's excited about the way her rising star has rebounded from her mental struggles.

"I think she's regained a lot of confidence that she might have lost on that event," Kindler said. "I'm just excited to see her happy to do it."

Anastasia Webb on the rise after weathering illness

Junior Anastasia Webb has taken sole possession of the all-around title in each of Oklahoma's last two meets, and she's been doing so at less than 100 percent strength.

Webb has had success even though she has been battling a cold for the past two weeks. Due to excessive coughing, she said she had been having trouble sleeping at night, while also noting that her right eye turned red prior to Sunday's meet against TWU.

Despite thinking she might have had pink eye, Webb's mental fortitude has helped carry her through this stretch of ailment while also providing lessons for better times.

"I think putting that aside and having the mental power to block that and continue to do the all-around and do it while I'm sick is really important to me," Webb said, "And I can do anything even when I'm not sick then."

While Webb's scores of 38.675 and 39.675 in OU's last two contests are both solid, Kindler anticipates those marks will continue to rise as Webb continues to recover.

"She could have been getting 39.800 in my opinion," Kindler said. "I think once she gets over the hump of the illness she'll be even better, so I'm looking forward to that."

Friday's meet will begin at 6:45 p.m. CT and will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma.

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