It’s been a decade since Oklahoma entered its NCAA regional without a Big 12 championship in tow.
The Sooners, who compete in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, this weekend, were a perfect 20-0 in the regular season before the University of Denver dethroned them at their conference championship meet on March 20.
“We all took responsibility for that result,” OU coach K.J. Kindler said. “We all could have done something a little different to bring home a different result. and we could have responded a little bit better to some of the situations that we were presented.”
An NCAA regional and national title remain the OU women’s focus as the top seed at their regional, which includes the likes of No. 7 Alabama, No. 10 Arkansas and No. 15 Auburn, among others.
Perhaps the wave of adversity will spark OU just as it did in 2011 when it came second to Nebraska in the Big 12 championship meet but won its ensuing regional.
The major difference, of course, is OU was not yet the gymnastics powerhouse it is today.
The Sooners haven’t lost a meet since 2018, when they fell short of a third consecutive national championship. OU made up for it a year later, winning the 2019 title, and were the team to beat in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short.
OU’s postseason standards have risen over the last 10 years. It’s hard to keep them low when you win your program’s first four national titles over a six-year period.
Competing in high-stakes meets year after year has provided OU’s gymnasts plenty of opportunities to face pressure, but the 2021 season has taken away a few of those chances.
Limited travel during the pandemic didn’t allow OU to bring in or go see all of the highly ranked teams Kindler likes to sprinkle throughout her team’s regular-season schedule.
Getting those meets has better prepared OU for the Big 12 and NCAA championships, so Kindler’s had to find different ways to teach her squad to handle pressure.
“These last two weeks, we’ve really gone above and beyond to try to get them in that mindset and that state where the pressure is on and they’ve responded really, really well,” Kindler said. “I think they’ve done everything they possibly can in the last two weeks to prepare for these moments this weekend and we’re just going to lay it all out on the table.”
Losing has also been a good teaching tool.
OU beat Denver twice during the regular season but Kindler hopes the team’s setback at the Big 12 championship can materialize into something positive as the Sooners embark on their quest for a fifth national title.
“Certainly they were disappointed in the result, but I also think it’s good to lose, and we haven’t lost since 2018,” Kindler said. “They honestly kind of needed that. They needed that little kick. I’ve seen them respond the last two weeks like they haven’t done all year long.
“The practices have been phenomenal. The mindsets been great. The energy in the gym has been really good. So I think it’s something maybe that we needed to give us a little boost.”