NORMAN, Okla. — Those who hadn't watched Maggie Nichols during her three previous years at Oklahoma had an opportunity during a holiday matinee at Lloyd Noble Center, as the nation observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
How Nichols, the Oklahoma superstar gymnast, would perform following a quick turnaround was another story. Monday, OU was coming off an electrically charged meet two days earlier at fifth-ranked Alabama.
"A high-emotion meet for us," OU coach K.J. Kindler said. "We expended a lot of energy, not just physical, but mental and emotional, when we were there."
That didn't seem to bother Nichols, who greeted OU fans in the home opener with a perfect 10 during her the first rotation, sticking a vault landing that kicked off the No. 1 Sooners' 198.175-196.550 victory over Arkansas.
It was an ideal tone-setter against the Razorbacks (0-3) and contributed toward Nichols' dominant day in the all-around. Her 39.900 was the second-highest score of her career. Since 2009, only Nichols has surpassed that score in NCAA competition.
Monday was her fourth time reaching that mark or higher.
Later, she came within a whisker of another 10, scoring 9.975 for the beam and floor title. She also won the bars crown with a 9.95.
Nichols' 10 on vault gives her seven in collegiate competition in that event and 19 for her career, as she chases the NCAA record of 28 held by Kentucky's Jenny Hansen. Ross and UCLA star Kyla Ross, who has 20 perfect 10s, are practically neck and neck for the mark.
"To see that 10 come up, it just means the absolute world and just the hard work paying off," Nichols said. "I mean, sometimes I can tell [if it's perfect]. Like that vault, I was like, 'That was pretty good.' But you never know. It’s in the judges hands so I just trust that."
Nichols had also hit a perfect vault score at Alabama. She couldn't remember if she'd ever notched back-to-back 10s in consecutive NCAA meets on the same event.
She and senior Jade Degouvia both impressed. Degouvia put up a season-high 9.90 on vault and career-high 9.950 on beam.
"Maggie is chasing 10s every time she steps on the floor," Kindler said, "and Jade, quite frankly, is doing the same. I think it’s going to come her way before the season’s over. I have no doubt that it’s coming soon. She is in a position to get a 10 on all three events that she competes, so just super impressed with their leadership."
As for the endurance test that came with competing in two of three days, Kindler was encouraged by what she saw on beam.
"If there’s any event you’re going to show just a little bit of exhaustion on it’s beam, because you need every little muscle in your body working," she said. "You have to be so precise so really if you see anything after a double weekend, it’s on that event. So I’m really excited that they hit six [stuck landings] in a row again."
Jordan Draper came just shy of tying a career-high with a 9.90 to lead OU off on floor as the Sooners (6-0) closed out the victory.
Nichols finished with a strong floor routine that Kindler had shortened to preserve her energy because of the schedule and her history with knee issues.
The result was the same.
"She did a two-pass floor routine today instead of three," Kindler said. "Basically, I re-cut the music last night, we took out a tumbling pass, added a leap in the first pass and she got the same score."
NEED TO KNOW
OU opened its home schedule in front of 4,400 fans who took in the arena's new setup. The curtain that once hung on Lloyd Noble Center's west side was moved to the south end permanently to create more bowl seating.
OU coach K.J. Kindler loved the turnout.
"Best home opener I think we’ve ever had," she said. "It felt super packed. I did hear that attendance was 4,400. It felt like more than that, which is a good thing for the athletes ... It felt a little bit like UCLA. It felt like a really good energy.
"Really excited to see people come out on a Monday afternoon. I can’t imagine on a Friday what that crowd’s going to look like. So really pleased with it."
• Nation high: OU's bar score of 49.675 is the nation's highest this season. Three different gymnasts scored 9.95 or better: Maggie Nichols, Jade Degouveia and Karrie Thomas.
Thomas' was a career-high.
"I am counting at least four really beautiful stuck landings," Kindler said. "They came one after another and they fed off each other so I thought that was amazing."
• Building on success: Arkansas coach Jordyn Wieber coached against OU not long ago. She was an assistant on the UCLA team that came to Norman last season and faced the Sooners again at the NCAA championship.
Wieber, an Olympic gold medalist and student of former UCLA legend Valorie Kondos Field, is trying to build on what former Arkansas coach Mark Cook accomplished during 17 seasons in Fayetteville.
• Next: Saturday, OU travels to the Metroplex Challenge, where No. 4 Denver, No. 5 Alabama and No. 18 Georgia await.
Palmateer is sports editor for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI News Service publication.