At 310 days since the Sooners’ last appearance at Lloyd Noble Center, everything is different outside the arena, but inside, Oklahoma is still winning like before.
Led by performances from seniors Anastasia Webb and Carly Woodard, No. 2 Oklahoma rolled to a comfortable 197.450-194.725 win over No. 21 Arizona State on Sunday in Norman. Even after losing stars in Maggie Nichols and Jade Degouveia to the completion of their careers, and despite missing junior stalwart Olivia Trautman due to an undisclosed injury, the Sooners didn’t miss a step to open the program’s 40th season.
OU came into the meet feeling as if it had “unfinished business,” per Nichols in the team’s preseason video. Oklahoma went undefeated in 2020, but was unable to compete for a national title due to COVID-19. Yet, the Sooners seem on track to finish that business in 2021 after Sunday’s performance.
Webb showed out in the all-around as the only Sooner to compete in all four routines. She put up scores of 9.850 on vault, 9.875 on bars, 9.950 on beam, and 9.925 on floor for the title, finishing with a 39.600. Her beam and floor scores were the highest on the team, too.
“Anastasia is beautiful to watch,” head coach K.J. Kindler said. “She is a special and different kind of athlete, powerful but also graceful, (and) not a lot of people have that combination. And on beam, to open the season with a 9.95 — when you are taking (Nichols’) spot as the anchor, and you can deliver a 9.95, you're doing your job, plus.
“Sometimes she doesn't know how great she is.”
Meanwhile, Woodard had one of OU’s five scores of 9.9 or higher on beam, finishing with exactly a 9.9. Before this season, Woodard only competed on beam. Sunday, Woodard stepped into an expanded role, making her debut on floor and performing an exhibition on vault. She didn’t disappoint on floor, finishing with a 9.825.
Perhaps something more impressive about Woodard’s floor routine is that she learned both her first and second tumbling passes during the summer. Many of the OU gymnasts struggled to train in the offseason due to COVID-19 restrictions, as they weren’t allowed to work with Kindler or on campus. Instead, they had to go to club gyms to get practice in.
“It's hard to learn anything period, and then to learn it when your training was so limited, kudos to her,” Kindler said. “She really dialed in this summer and kept plugging away. You can tell that she has goals, and she's gone after them 100 percent, and you're seeing the results of her summer training and her discipline right here.”
It wasn’t just the pair of seniors who pushed Oklahoma to the victory, either. Three freshmen — Audrey Davis, Kat LeVasseur, and Audrey Lynn — all stepped up in their first collegiate meet.
LeVasseur had the highest score on bars with a 9.925. Davis added a 9.875 each on bars and Lynn scored 9.875 on vault. Collectively, all three impressed their upperclassman teammates with their poise and confidence.
“They were so confident and that was all that we asked of them in our pre-warmup talk,” Woodard said. “I just said, ‘I want to see confidence in you guys. I want to see you do what you do every single day in the gym,’ and I think that they really nailed that on the head. … I'm super excited to see what this class can do over the next four years.”
While the outcome was no different than usual, the environment in the Lloyd Noble Center was. OU was previously accustomed to packed crowds, if not sellouts. However, COVID-19 restrictions limit the arena’s attendance to approximately 2,500 — a fraction of the 11,500 it held before.
“You could definitely feel that there weren't as many people here, but the people who were here were loud and proud, and I thought the energy was good,” Kindler said. “We're so thankful that we have attendance at our events. We know we're going to go on the road, and there'll be many places that we will not have any attendance, and that will be an adjustment for us.”
Before it has to travel to empty arenas, Oklahoma will be in front of its home crowd again when it takes on No. 3 Utah at 3:45 p.m. Jan. 17 on ESPN2.