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OU women's gymnastics: No end in sight to Sooners' success as K.J. Kindler reaches milestones in Year 15

Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler greets Olivia Trautman after Trautman's balance beam performance during the Perfect 10 gymnastics meet last season in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler greets Olivia Trautman after Trautman's balance beam performance during the Perfect 10 gymnastics meet last season in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

When K.J. Kindler was contacted by Joe Castiglione in the spring of 2006 about the OU women’s gymnastics coaching job, Kindler had a million reasons to stay.

She was the head coach at her alma mater, Iowa State. She’d just led the Cyclones to their first NCAA Super Six appearance. She was pregnant with her first child and just a few hours away from family in Minnesota, where she grew up before moving to Connecticut in high school.

But there was one big reason for Kindler to leave.

“I really wanted to bring a program to the very top in the nation,” Kindler said. “And Joe Castiglione convinced me that this was the place where I could do it.

“I wanted the opportunity. … Certainly we made the most of it, and I can plan to continue to make the most of it.”

It took Kindler two seasons to lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title. In her fourth season, OU made the Super Six for the first time, finishing as runners-up. Four seasons later, the Sooners won their first-ever NCAA Championship, becoming just the sixth program to win a title since the NCAA Championships began in 1982.

In mid-February, with wins over Centenary and Texas Woman’s at the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth, Kindler reached 400 wins at OU in her 15th season.

In the 26 seasons of OU gymnastics before Kindler’s arrival, the Sooners had 387 wins as a program.

In the Sooners’ last meet, a win over Denver, Texas Woman’s, and Lindenwood, on Feb. 26, Kindler recorded her 500th overall career coaching win, behind only Michigan’s Bev Plocki among active coaches.

Since that first Super Six appearance for the Sooners in 2010, the Sooners missed the event just once until the format was changed in 2019 — the season OU won its fourth national title.

Kindler credits the program’s sustained success to its stability — both above and below her.

Castiglione promised big upgrades to the Sooners’ facilities when he sold Kindler on the vision of building a national power in Norman, he delivered and has remained at the center of OU’s athletic success across the board since his arrival 22 years ago.

“They don’t talk about winning with me,” Kindler says of the OU administration. “They talk about winning in the classroom. They talk about our athletes graduating better people than they walked in, and that’s where that leadership comes from is Joe.”

Kindler’s assistant coaches — Lou Ball, Kindler’s husband, and Tom Haley — have been around since her arrival in Norman. Even the team’s trainer, Jenn Richardson, remains as part of the original staff Kindler brought aboard to lead the Sooners to new heights.

“Staff all over the country turn over all the time, in all sports,” Kindler said. “We have been so fortunate to keep our staff together. … We’re all on the same page. We’ve worked together a long time. I know what everyone’s thinking before they even say it, and vice versa, and I think that chemistry we have has certainly helped with our success.”

Last season, the Sooners looked to be in strong position to a second consecutive national title and fifth in program history before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short with OU atop the rankings.

The Sooners battled a spate of injuries early this season, leading to a shaky start, but OU has surged lately, elevating to No. 2 in the nation heading into Friday’s home finale against No. 11 BYU at 6:45 p.m. at the Lloyd Noble Center (Fox Sports Oklahoma).

The team’s seniors — Jordan Draper, Evy Schoepfer, Karrie Thomas, Anastasia Webb and Carly Woodard — will be honored at the meet.

Thomas will return for another season while Draper and Schoepfer will not return, preferring to begin their post collegiate competition lives, Kindler said Thursday. Webb and Woodard have yet to decide.

All athletes this season are eligible to return following an NCAA ruling related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ryan Aber

Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The... Read more ›