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‘It was just unreal’: OU women’s gymnastics sticks it to Michigan with record bars performance on senior night

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Seniors

The OU Women’s Gymnastics seniors before the meet against Michigan on March 4.

Audrey Davis stuck her landing and the Sooners made history. 

Before 7,478 roaring fans inside the Lloyd Noble Center on Friday night, the sophomore tallied a 9.975, anchoring the Sooners to a program-record 49.825 performance on bars in an impassioned competition.

Oklahoma’s record-breaking night followed a unique practice adaptation by coach K.J. Kindler in the days leading up to Friday’s meet. Earlier this week, Kindler brought out her sticker stick, and let her athletes place a sticker on it each time they successfully dismounted on an event, motivating them to repeat success.

After two days of practice, Kindler’s stick was full, and it led to more stuck landings against Michigan. The historic night on bars alongside a perfect 10 from freshman Jordan Bowers saw the No. 2 Sooners (11-2, 1-0 Big 12) upset No. 1 Michigan (12-1, 9-0 Big Ten) in a 198.475-197.900 in Norman. OU’s 198.475 fell only .025 away from tying its highest scoring meet ever.

Following last season’s gut-wrenching 198.2500-198.1625 loss to the Wolverines in the NCAA Championship, the Sooners wreaked vengeance against the Wolverines in their last home meet of the regular season.

“The enthusiasm our team showed, I mean, the energy was amazing,” Kindler said following the victory. “You can’t stop this press conference without saying thank you to Sooner fans for an incredible crowd and creating an even better atmosphere. The atmosphere was electric.”

The Norman audience’s animation was apparent early after Bowers tallied her first career faultless score in the No. 3 spot on vault. The Lincoln, Nebraska, native had been agonizingly close to a perfect 10 for her entire freshman season. 

Three 9.75s and a 9.925 later, Bowers reached that elusive score on a sentimental senior night, helping send upperclassmen off with a win, but simultaneously flashing the promise of the future.

“When someone sticks a vault like that… It motivates and inspires the rest of the lineup,” Kindler said of Bowers’ perfect score.

The underclassmen stepped up on vault with freshman Danae Fletcher earning a career-high 9.95, accompanying Bowers’ score. Fletcher tallied the career high mark on the event despite it being the first time she attempted a one and a half twist in competition.

Fletcher said she had only been working the specific routine for around three days. But what Kindler saw in warmups instilled enough faith to give Fletcher the green light. Bowers and Fletcher’s contributions helped OU reach a 49.450, knotting the score with the Wolverines heading into the second rotation.

In the second event, the four-time national champion Sooners hammered their adversary’s hopes with stuck landing after stuck landing on bars. Six straight routines of 9.925s or higher tallied a 49.825, and the crowd erupted once Davis nailed her landing to close the event in confident fashion. 

The energy the Sooners entered with on vault seeped into bars, catapulting the bar squad’s confidence, and it was evident.

“When you have momentum like that, it’s just out of your hands. It’s just like nothing, nothing wrong could happen,” Kindler said. “You just felt that kind of elation, and everyone was feeding off one another. It was a wildly enthusiastic group.”

Fifth-year senior Karrie Thomas, in her last regular season meet at the Lloyd Noble Center, was among the four Sooners who notched a 9.975 on bars. 

But, the Coral Springs, Florida, native is not traveling back home just yet. Thomas will stay at OU next fall to start the Master of Business Administration program.

Heading into the third rotation on beam, Kindler said there was concern because of the excitement the gymnasts expressed following their performance on bars. 

“I know on beam, we need to be calm, we need to be settled down,” Kindler said.

But rest assured, the Sooners grounded themselves and earned a 49.525 on the event. Junior Ragan Smith and Davis tallied a 9.925 and 9.9, respectively, with senior Olivia Trautman earning a 9.825. However, the team-high 9.95 came from fifth-year senior Carly Woodard. 

Woodard participated in her second career senior night on Friday after opting to return for the 2022 season thanks to an extra-year of eligibility provided by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As she hangs the leotard up, Woodard now plans to pursue a doctorate degree in osteopathic medicine at Oklahoma State.

Woodard was not the only senior on beam to make an announcement, as Trautman surprised everyone who stayed to watch the senior night ceremony.

The Champlin, Minnesota, native announced she will exhaust her extra year of eligibility and return for the 2023 season, as did star senior vaulter Allie Stern. 

“The opportunity to compete for this incredible program for one more year is something that I could not pass up,” Stern said. “Sooner Nation, I’ll see you next year. Boomer.”

The Sooners held a 148.800-148.500 lead as OU headed into the last rotation on floor. There, sophomore Bell Johnson had to wait to begin her routine due to the noise level inside the arena.

“Our team was kind of getting the crowd going,” Kindler said. “Once they caught on, it was like fire in here. And really, they had to calm down before her music started, just for her to hear it.”

Finally, Johnson ran through her routine and earned a 9.9. Then, two more superb routines came from Fletcher and Bowers. Fletcher notched another career-high with a 9.975 and Bowers matched a career-high with a 9.95. Freshman Danielle Sievers and Woodard added 9.925s.

To conclude OU’s senior night, Emma LaPinta was given an exhibition routine, and the crowd loved it. LaPinta, a senior from Frisco, Texas, graduates in May and will return to her hometown to intern with the Professional Golfer’s Association.

Despite seniors’ emotions running high during their final regular season home meet, the Sooners will be making an appearance back in Norman in the postseason. On Friday, Oklahoma was selected to host the women’s gymnastics NCAA South Central Regional competition from March 30-April 2.

OU’s final regular season competitions will be on the road, and the Big 12 Championship will be held in Denver. The Sooners next face Texas Woman’s University, Southeast Missouri and Air Force at 2 p.m. CT. on Sunday, March 6 in Denton, Texas.

Until the Sooners return to their home arena again, they’ll be savoring Friday’s energetic meet, which saw them stick it to the reigning national champions.

“It was just unreal… I’m looking back right now in my head and I really don’t know what happened,” Fletcher said. “We really just savored every part of this meet.”

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