Sooners Roll Bama on Senior Night

Posted on March 3, 2012

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The #5 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide Gymnastics rolled into Norman undefeated and they weren’t looking to go home any other way as Defending National Champions. They were also coming back to “right the wrongs” of the last visit to Norman, when the then #1 Bama lost to the Sooners. The Sooners were coming off a season high score at home and on an emotional Senior Night, it was always going to be a fight to the final rotation where one mistake could be the difference. When Bama comes to town, no matter what the sport, you need you A game!

“Alabama is an amazing program. If you want to qualify for the Super Six and contend for a national championship you have to go through Alabama. Sarah (Patterson) has produced one of the best programs year-after-year in the country. They are truly a dynasty. I’m just very proud that our athletes fought hard tonight.” K.J. Kindler

The #2 Oklahoma Sooners (16-2, 2-0 Big 12) gave the #5 Alabama (9-1, 6-0 SEC) its first loss of the season yesterday (2nd March) at the Lloyd Noble Center. The final scores of 197.300 to 197.150 do not provide a full indication of how the night went for the Sooners, who had to battle back from .425 behind with only Floor left to compete. Lesser teams would have admitted defeat and crumbled under the pressure, but that’s not what a K.J. Kindler team would do; that’s not what and Oklahoma Sooner team would do. To any young gymnasts reading, take note: Never give up, Believe In yOUself and always give 110% and great things can happen! 

But lets start from the beginning of the night, leading off on vault. Erica Brewer, Taylor Spears, Hayden Ward and Kayla Nowak all posting 9.8. A special mention to Nowak, who was a late call for the Vault replacing Madison Mooring, posting the 9.8 on her first vault appearance this season. Brie Olson posted a 9.85 just leaving the #1 vault specialist in the country left, the ever fantastic Sara Stone. Once again she didn’t disappoint, posting another score over 9.9 with a 9.925 to lead the team and set an opening rotation score of 49.175. The Sooners trailed the Crimson Tide after they stepped it up on bars, posting a season high 49.450. Ladies and Gentleman, this was going to the toughest test of the season for OUr Gymnasts.

“One of the things we knew we would have to do was keep up with Alabama on vault and floor. Out of the gate, we had some adjustments to our vault lineup and I don’t think we performed as well as we could have on that event. On vault, Alabama just knocked it out of the park. We were good, but not stellar. And we needed a stellar vault performance to keep up with them.” K.J. Kindler

Bars were up next for the Sooners, needing to post a high score to fight back and gain some momentum. Despite all 6 Gymnasts posting above 9.825, Bama posted a 49.525 on Vault to stretch the lead out at the half. OU posted a 49.325 on Bars, lead once again by #3 bars specialist in the Nation, Megan Ferguson who posted a 9.9. Not to be outdone, Olson and Nowak both were hot on her heels, scoring 9.875. Spears posted a 9.85 with Hayden and Brewer both posting 9.825. This meant that the gap had increased with OU trailing Alabama 98.975-98.500. 

This would not be the position K.J. Kindler or the girls would have wanted to be in, especially to a great team like Bama. The fight back would have to start now, and up next for the Sooners was beam. The beam I always find is the apparatus that makes or breaks a night, and has been the downfall of many gymnasts over the years. It was now or never to start the come back and start the comeback. The Sooners did have the advantage of competing floor last, with Bama finishing on beam, where a couple of falls or wobbles can undo 3 near perfect events.

Once again all the Sooner girls posted over 9.825 on beam, showing total dedication, determination and nerves of steel to all the fans not only stay on the beam, but to make sure if Bama was going to come into OUr house, they would have to earn the Win on beam.It always helps having the #1 beam specialist in the country finishing up the order, but this is not an individual sport, this is the epitome of a team sport. Each gymnast is working for the team first, any individual honors are always well deserved and earned, but I know they would pass them up to end up the #1 team at the end of the year. Brewer, Stone and Spears all put up some great routines, all scoring 9.875 to take a share of the beam event title. Ferguson scored a 9.85 with Mooring and Nowak posting up 9.825. This gave a team score of 49.300 with Bama posting a 49.250. This chipped away only very lightly at the deficit to bring it to .425 with Alabama leading OU 148.225-147.800.

I don’t know that K.J. Kindler, or maybe one of the Seniors said to the team before the Floor rotation, but it would take an effort of Herculean proportions to come back from behind and take the win. One thing I did notice on OUr visit over in preseason to the team was how close-knit the team was, you can never under-estimate these girls, or this team and the fact that they live for these moments. You do not come to Oklahoma if you don’t love and thrive on the pressure when the chips are down. Oh, and did I mention Bama had beam. Yes they had a big lead, but the beam is an unforgiving Mistress who gives you nothing and takes it all if you do not nail the routine. For those of you who don’t know, the beam is only 10cm (4 inches) wide, most of us would struggle to simply walk along it when it’s over 4ft off the ground.

It was not going to end the season with a loss here, but it would have hurt so deeply sending this talented bunch of Senior’s off with that loss on senior night. Olson, Brewer and Nowak made sure they did all they could to put the Sooners in the best possible position to come back and win this meet, all posting 9.875. Remember people, Brewer is only a Freshman so the pressure was definitely on, and you know what, she passed the test with flying colors. With Olson and Nowak becoming Seniors next year, this was also a sign of these two stepping up when it counts to lead this young team next year! This was the springboard to a potential great score and one of the best comebacks we are likely to see in Norman. They inspired hope in the crowd, and oh how I wish I could have been there, but I can only imagine the tension in the air, especially when only 1 of the first 4 scores for Bama on Beam were over 9.8, with one being a 9.325. Was the pressure getting to Bama?

“I knew it was going to happen. When we got through the lineup and I knew they were the last two, I knew there was no way they were going down.” K.J. Kindler

This is when you want experience and consistency out there on the floor, and I don’t think you could wish for two better Sooners than Sara Stone and Megan Ferguson out there. They really just do not have off nights, and that’s what you need when finishing any apparatus. Some would call it Sooner Magic, but I wouldn’t. This is just down to years of dedication, sacrifice and training to get to this place. I don’t think I know of any harder working, more dedicated and under appreciated athletes than gymnasts! Sara Stone was up first, and she did not disappoint.With that look of pure focus on the task at hand (until she nailed the final tumble series when she those even in the top rows of the Lloyd Noble would have seen the smile) she set a 9.925. The possibility of a comeback was a serious possibility with Bama still struggling on beam.

It came down to Ferguson to finish what the others had started, and I don’t think any Sooner fan in the building doubted that she would bring it home for an unlikley comeback win from .425 down with just the final rotation to go. With an almost cheeky looking little dance start to the routine, Ferguson soon changes that to flying effortlessly through the air. Again, with a smile so big it could be seen from space almost, Megan just looked natural and totally at ease, almost oblivious to the pressure set upon her. But the pure emotion was there for all to see at the end of the routine. A touching moment for all to witness on an emotional night, shows how much being apart of this team; how much being a Sooner has meant. But, was it enough?


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I think the above shows it was enough. With the Sooners posting a season high 49.500 on floor, Bama fell down on the beam. With 3 scores under 9.8 counting for them, they only scored 48.925. The Sooners had done it, not only turning a .425 deficit around, to winning the meet by .150. It was the victory we wanted, but now how K.J. would have wanted it. But there is one thing about winning in this style, we learnt many things about OUr Sooners. They never quit, they don’t back down to any challenge and when the pressure is on, they thrive. And with the schedule that is coming up and (hopefully) another Championship to go to, it’s always better to find out you have it now!

“On floor, it was just an amazing performance. It was the best performance I have seen our team have as a group. Sometimes when you see the door opening, when Alabama had a mistake or two, a lot of teams might get nervous and ice up. What I really liked was that our team seized it on floor.” K.J. Kindler

In true Oklahoma Sooners style, the hard road to the Championships continue. Heading out west, the Sooners face UCLA in another top 5 matchup. UCLA are fresh of a huge performance where they scored a huge 198.050, the only team to break the 198 barrier. This will be another test along the road of greatness, one in which I will be supporting the team every way I can! For video highlights, more photos and coverage of this, check out the Gymnastics page at SoonerSports.com.

Senior Sooner Gymnast Candace Cindell is an ever present figure for OU Gymnastics. She is the ‘spark’ behind the team and one of the biggest OU fans yOU will ever meet (Read more about Candace here with her OUDaily Senior article). Candace was gracious enough to provide me (at 5am this morning = dedication) with a few words on beating Bama, and more importantly, what Senior Night and OU Gymnastics means to an OU Gymnast. So a huge thank yOU to Candace, a true Sooner legend.

Last night in a word was ‘magical.’ Bama is a strong team. We knew it was going to be a fight down to tenths of a point. I’m so prOUd of my team for really digging deep and leaving everything they had on the floor. Literally. The floor team was insanely awesome last night really showed some quality in their landings and great performing skills.

Senior night was just the icing on the cake. I’m very happy I got to be the bar team and watch the girls go all out for handstands and landings the way the do all the time in gym. The ceremony at the end was so awesome! I’ve been a lower classmen in four senior nights and was emotional… This one was so wonderful to have the girls and staff shower us (Megan, Sara, Tasha and Me) with the same kind of Sooner love that I seen in years past. Their words were like their performance last night, passionate, honest and something I will always treasure. Speaking of treasure, the team made each of a personalized picture woven blanket and put together a fabulous scrapbook. I’m a very lucky girl to have had two of the best weeks of my life in a row AND go to share them both with my team.” Candace Cindell

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