The University of Oklahoma women's gymnastics team staged a massive comeback to win its fifth NCAA title in less than a decade Saturday (April 16) at the 2022 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas. Oklahoma last took the title in 2019, with the event being canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020, and the University of Michigan taking the crown a year ago.
The Sooner squad, which finished the regular season ranked No. 1, found itself in a hole early. Shaky landings during their opening rotation on the floor put them at the bottom of the rankings, but that all seemed a distant memory as they hoisted the NCAA trophy three rotations later.
"Wow. I mean, I don't know if you guys have seen anything like that before, but I personally have not," said OU head coach K.J. Kindler afterward during a press conference. "What fight, what heart, what heart they had to fight back after floor. They didn't count themselves out."
Oklahoma's 198.200 total held off the University of Florida, which earned a 198.0875. The University of Utah (197.750) finished third, while Auburn University was fourth at 197.350.
After winning their national semifinal on Thursday (14 April), Kindler shared how they felt like underdogs coming into this event despite their pedigree and top ranking coming into the event.
Saturday - championship in hand - she expounded saying that the team had been fueled by a preseason prediction. The prediction, taped up on the refrigerator in OU's practice facility read, "If there is a year to actually safe to predict Oklahoma not winning, this is the year."
Said Kindler, "This is something that really fueled them every day. We walked in, and we looked at that in numerous spots in the locker room to make sure they would see it."
The 51-year-old head coach didn't hang the signs, she didn't have to. Instead, senior Carly Woodard took the initiative.
"I saw that and immediately sent it to my senior class and was like, What are we going to do about this?" said Woodard, who decided along with roommates Allie Stern and Emma Lapinta to post the quote as motivation.
Despite a slow start, they had plenty of motivation with coach Kindler opting for a simple pep talk as they moved to the vault.
"'Let's go,'" she said when asked what she told her team after the first rotation. "I mean, there wasn't a lot that needed to be said I felt. We're just like, 'Come on, let's go,' kind of firing them up a little bit, but we didn't really need to. Their heads were in the right spot. It wasn't about, 'Oh no,' it was more about, 'Let's go.'"
From that point on, Kindler saw her squad in such a groove there was nothing else to say as they moved to the ever precarious balance beam to close out the meet.
"If we're in a groove, I'm certainly not going to stop what's happening," Kindler said. "If I stopped and circled them up, they would make the moment bigger than they needed to. They were in a groove. They were moving. They knew what had to happen. I didn't need to tell them."
A comeback for the ages
After one rotation, Utah led the way after a masterful effort on the balance beam. 2020 U.S. Olympic team alternate
Kara Eaker led the way for squad, recording a near perfect 9.9500 after executing a side aerial to layout series and sticking her dismount. Their total was 49.5125.
On the vault, Florida overcame a slow start with several athletes coming up slightly short on Yurchenko one-and-a-half vault after Trinity Thomas rocked a 9.9875 effort in the fifth spot. They moved to rotation two in third, scoring 49.350. The Oklahoma Sooners scored just 49.1875 after its final two competitors - Jordan Bowers and 2017 U.S. champion Ragan Smith - went out side the area for a .100 penalties.
But in the second rotation, OU went lights out on the vault, executing six Yurchenko one-and-a-half vaults with Katherine Levasseur and Olivia Trautman notching 9.975 and 9.9625 scores to lift their team to a 49.6625. After two events, Florida led Oklahoma by just .025 but it was Utah at the top of the standings. The Gators earned a 49.525 on the uneven bars after being able to drop the score of 2018 world team gold medallist Riley McCusker on the uneven bars, who fell on her dismount. Thomas was near perfect, again, with a 9.975 on the event while Savannah Schoenherr added a 9.925.
Utah fell away in the third rotation, unable to control several of their vaults. Their 49.225 put them in third after three events.
Heading into the final event, the competition had become a battle between Oklahoma and Florida, two previous winners. OU continued its recovery, putting on a clinic of a rotation on the uneven bars for a massive 49.725 total. Florida was solid but not without small checks throughout its balance beam rotation, earning a 49.500 total. OU led the Gators by 0.2000 going into the final event.
That deficit proved to be too much to make up for Florida. OU, which after earning the lowest floor total of the night, completed its sweep of the other three posting a 49.625 on the balance beam with anchor Smith putting her squad out of reach for Florida's last up - Peyton Richards - after scoring a 9.9625.