OU women's gymnastics: Why Metroplex Challenge podium meet is 'hugely important' for Sooners' progress
NORMAN — OU hopes its women’s gymnastics season ends with a triumph at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
This weekend figures to end in victory in the building for the No. 4 Sooners, but could be key toward helping OU achieve its ultimate goal of winning the national championship when it’s held in the arena April 16-17.
The Sooners take on Texas Woman’s and Centenary as part of the Metroplex Challenge beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Saturday’s meet will be OU’s only podium meet of the season.
Having the event surface elevates on the podium gives a springier surface to the events, something that takes some getting used to.
“This is hugely important, just to kind of get the athletes to understand the difference between going on a normal floor and going on a podium, getting some experience under our belt before that big competition,” OU coach K.J. Kindler said.
In most seasons, the Sooners compete on the podium several times during the year. But this season, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the annual Perfect 10 Challenge in Oklahoma City and the cancellation of the contract that would’ve put the Big 12 Championship on a podium as well.
The conference meet featuring the Sooners, Iowa State and West Virginia remains scheduled for March 20 in Morgantown, West Virginia.
OU is coming off a season-best 197.800 score at Denver last weekend, a meet which Kindler called a “huge step forward.”
“Still, we weren’t at our very best so we know there’s a better score out there for us,” Kindler said. “I really feel like we have a strong team. They just are going to take a little more time than it’s taken in the past to get where they need to be from a peaking standpoint.
No. 17 Iowa State was scheduled to be part of Saturday’s meet as well but the Cyclones had to withdraw due to COVID-19 protocols, which caused a pause in team activities.
The Sooners will face Iowa State in the regular-season finale March 14 in Ames.
Though OU hasn’t been affected much by COVID-19 protocols, Kindler was scrambling Thursday to arrange for another bus to travel to the meet.
Many of the Sooners coaches and staffers had planned to drive themselves to Fort Worth, due to the proximity of the event and because protocols require those traveling together to wear not only N95 masks but plastic shields during travel.
But winter weather expected in Oklahoma and Texas this weekend left Kindler looking for a second bus.
Also due to protocols, busses can only be half filled.
In a season where injuries have caused several freshmen to be pushed into action earlier than they normally would, Bell Johnson became the latest to move into the lineup.
Johnson, a Norman native and product of the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, turned in a season-high 9.900 in the floor exercise last week in her third meet in the lineup.
“She’s watched OU gymnastics her whole life so to have this moment almost seemed really big for her,” Kindler said. “Now, after a couple meets, I think she’s settled into the fact that she belongs out there. She really owned that routine in Denver. If she competes like that every week, you’re going to see 9.9s from her consistently.”
“We put a huge emphasis on bringing Oklahoma gymnasts to our team,” Kindler said. “There’s no one who is as loyal or as excited to be a Sooner gymnast as those athletes. They bring a sense of tradition to our team and certainly a sense of ownership of love — not only love of the sport but love of the Sooners — to our team, and I think that’s really important.”
Ryan Aber covers OU athletics, especially football. You can send your story ideas to him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ryaber. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
Who: No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 42 Texas Woman’s, No. 51 Centenary
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas