Sooners host No. 11-ranked Alabama on Friday
NORMAN — The Oklahoma women's gymnastics team returns home Friday for the first time since the record-setting attendance the Sooners experienced March 3 against No. 2 UCLA. The top-ranked Sooners host No. 11 Alabama for Senior Night at Lloyd Noble Center.
The program's four seniors will be honored after the meet.
Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler spoke to The Oklahoman about those seniors and the growing interest in OU gymnastics.
Q: What has the attention been like since drawing more than 10,000 fans for the UCLA meet?
A: "To me, this is what they have craved since they decided to come to Oklahoma is to have a crowd like that and to have people paying attention to what they're doing. And they're doing some pretty great stuff. This is something that we want to continue obviously, and this is something that they've earned. It's super exciting for an athlete to be able to compete in front of a group of people that's that engaged and that fills the stands. It was a unique experience. I was interviewing all of our seniors for senior night, and several of them said that was their favorite memory since they've been here."
How different has Brenna Dowell's path to this final season been?
"She's meant a great deal to thew sport of gymnastics period. She's done some very unique things — deferring, leaving college, coming back to college. She's shown that you can do that as a female gymnast. ... It's not normal, so for her to be able to do that sets the bar higher for others to maybe have the opportunity to go to the Olympics during their time in college."
How different is Nicole Lehrmann's personality compared the Brenna's?
"She's kind of been more of an emotional leader for us. Brenna's — not that she's lacking emotion — but she's a little more straight-laced. Nico is more of an emotional leader. She's really puts her heart on her sleeve. She had to work very hard to get to the level she is. She's a national champion on bars. Brenna had this amazing elite career, Nico didn't. So what she's accomplished here is stepping up the ladder the whole time she's been here. She's graduating as the best athlete she's ever been, which is hard to do in college."
Alex Marks, the lone Oklahoman on the roster, has had an unusual path as well.
"Something I think everyone's learned from Alex is never give up. She's persevered through a lot of injuries starting when she was 11 years old with an elbow surgery and it never ended from that point forward. She is not the standard gymnast size. She's 5-foot-8, one of the tallest gymnasts in the country, and she can still perform at such a high level. Because of that height, the sport has presented difficulties in some ways. She's pushed through those."
How has Ashley Hiller fit in since she transferred from Florida?
"Of all those people, she's the one that wants to be a coach. She's just very passionate about the sport. She loves being in here, not only as something that she's disciplined and dedicated and committed to but something that, to her, is very social. I think she loves engaging with her teammates and developing those relationships."
No. 1 OKLAHOMA VS. No. 11 ALABAMA
When: 6:45 p.m., Friday
Where: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman