Make it Count. The Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team lived by that motto all season, and on Saturday, April 16, the Sooners did just that as they secured the 2016 NCAA national championship.
The No. 1-seeded Sooners snagged the 2016 crown, their second in program history and first outright title, with a score of 197.6750. Here’s the story of that meaningful night as told by AJ Jackson, Chayse Capps, Natalie Brown and Haley Scaman.
Let’s go ladies!” I screamed as we marched out onto the competition floor one last time as a team. It was the Super Six, what we’ve been working toward the entire year. It was finally here. As we stood on the floor, waiting for the other teams, I could hardly contain my excitement. The thought that we could be national champions after tonight had us all hyped. When the national anthem started playing I got chills. It was really happening! We then moved to the vault corral to get ready for the first rotation.
“Your timed warmup is now over. Judges you may now take control of your event.”
The six of us huddled on the podium for the pre-vault ritual when it hit me. It’s the last time this group will compete together. The last time the seniors will ever touch the competition floor. Focus AJ! Now is not the time to get sentimental. I shook my head and put my hand in the circle.
"The thought that we could be national champions after tonight had us all hyped. When the national anthem started playing I got chills. It was really happening!"
“Alright,” Sca said, “big vaults. Go for the landings, and at the end go crazy. Vault to fish on three.”
As we walked off, I patted Charity on the shoulder as I had done many times before. No need to break tradition now. I went into the corral, put on my giant sweatpants, turned around and waited. I watched each person. First Charity. Then Hunter. Keeley. Then Chayse. Salute. Run. Vault. Finish. Without breaking tradition, I congratulated each person as usual. A fist bump for Charity. A high five for Hunter and Keeley. A hug for Chayse. As Sca saluted the judges, I began preparing myself for my turn. As she finished, I slowly walked up the stairs to the podium and started chalking up.
“Let’s go A,” Sca quietly told me as she ran by.
I silently wait for the judges to finish scoring Sca’s vault, staring blank face down the runway. Floor music blares from the speakers and cheering fans are screaming their heads off. In usual fashion, I start dancing to the music as I continue to wait. Sca’s score flashes and the green flag goes up. I salute and step onto the runway. I look down and point my foot at 82, look up at the vault, and back down again.
“Run tall, arms up, punch, block, look, look. Slow. Slow.”
I take that first step and run down the runway. Ten steps and a hurdle. A round-off. A back-handspring. A look at the table and one and a half twist.
A smile beaming on my face.
I salute the judges and run into Lou’s arms. He hugs me tight and releases me. I run back to my screaming team, ones held high, excitement running through my veins. One event down, three to go. It was only just the beginning of an unforgettable night.
DDuring the bar rotation at Super Six, we had just come off of a bye. We had started on vault that night, and although it wasn’t as perfect as we had planned, we knew going into the next five rotations we would need to start picking up some tenths we left on the floor from vault.
Walking into the arena after our first bye we were beginning to notice how electric the crowd was and how tight this meet was going to be. We knew as a team it was going to take everything we had, so coming from the bye we wanted to make sure to stay in the moment and make this bar rotation come alive as we had in many of our previous meets throughout the 2016 season.
As we began our warmup, we focused on all of the details we had been training up until that point and they all seemed to fall into place. I remember the conversation quite clearly when Tom was talking to us for the last time as a bar group this season. He was explaining how this is the time to show what we can do and how we looked well prepared. He was telling us our handstands were there, our landings were solid and I couldn’t have been more motivated for bars than in that moment.
I typically do not watch the first two people in front of me, however I couldn’t help but feel the energy coming from my teammates and coaches around me. As AJ began her bar routine, I heard so many people in the crowd cheering for us and for AJ after she competed each and every skill beautifully. As Nico began to compete, I could again feel the energy in the arena and I could see the confidence she was portraying as she was moving through her bar routine. When she landed her dismount I knew at that instant that this team was ready to turn everything around and that we were ready to fight for the title no matter how much heart and soul it would take.
When Nico landed that dismount everyone erupted in applause because of her beautifully-stuck dismount. As she was getting down off the podium to greet the team, it was my turn to jump up and chalk up. So many emotions were going through my head and it seemed like an eternity while Tom was talking to me. He was again reinforcing some last minute corrections and was telling me that the gymnastics I was doing that day was the best he had seen me do this season. This last compliment helped boost my confidence one notch higher and that is something I specifically remember before getting onto the bar.
As I salute the judge I remember the judge smiling at me as if to say, “you’ve got this.”
As I began my routine I was making sure to mentally check off each and every correction both Tom and Lou told me in the gym every day. I tried to put myself back into the Sam Viersen Gym mentally so that I could focus more on the little details and less about my surroundings. This was evident in my dismount as I found the ground and stuck my dismount. The feeling of sticking that dismount after one of the best bar routines I had competed this season was incredible. The crowd again erupted with another stuck dismount.
"The moments after you finish a great routine are the ones we, as gymnasts, never forget."
The reassuring faces and compliments of your teammates and coaches are what make everything worth it.
After my routine, Scaman, Keeley and Kenzie all hit three more very solid routines with a third stuck bar dismount coming from Scaman. Topping off our rotation with McKenzie Wofford’s flawless on the bar work was the cherry on top that we were looking for in that rotation and I could not have been more proud of my team than in this moment when we were able to turn around and complete one of the best bar meets we had done all year.
With or without our voices this team was driven and more motivated than ever before.
A lot of things were running through my mind as I headed over to the beam. I started thinking about how fast the night had flown by, how many fans and young gymnasts were in attendance and how I wanted to have no regrets when I ran off the beam mats to meet my coaches and team. I sat my clothes down outside the beam corral and walked up the podium to get ready for the four-minute touch warmup.
The beam lineup warmed up with such confidence. As I headed toward the locker rooms and away from the arena to do mentals with Chayse, I knew that our beam team was ready. Personally I cannot watch anyone on beam before me (Keeley and Nico) other than the person that competes right before me. However, I do listen to the OU crowd because it has somewhat of a calming effect and lets me know when it’s time to walk back into the arena. Suddenly I heard the crowd go wild, I turned to Chayse and we had our “pre-beam talk.”
Chayse: “What are you going to do?”
Natalie: “Just do it.”
Chayse: “We got this. Kill it.”
Natalie: “Kill it.”
We then touched knuckles and I walked back into the arena.
Stef hit a good routine and when she landed her dismount, I started up the podium to the chalk bowl. While I chalked up my feet, calves and hands I listened to the many sounds that filled the arena. I looked around at the judges, my team, crowd and scoreboard. The coaches tell us to never pay attention to the scores, but for me whenever I look at the scores it prepares me mentally and gives me an extra push of motivation. The top-three team totals at the time were within one to two tenths from each other, and Oklahoma was one of them. I knew it was time to make it count.
KJ then stood in front of me and said, “Ready BABBS?!” I shook my head yes then took a deep breath and she started to run through my routine. “Go get ‘em,” KJ said and I proceeded to get some more chalk, straighten the mat (I am very OCD so everything has to be perfect), and then I stepped up on the springboard, looked at the judges and saluted.
I mounted the beam and went on with my routine. I felt calm and relaxed and took my time with each skill. Before I knew it I was about to dismount. I knew that stuck landings are very important in a meet like this one, so I needed to stick my dismount just like I have in all my previous routines. I did my switch leap then pushed off the beam for my gainer full and my feet hit the ground perfectly.
I stuck it.
Excitingly, I did my big college finish, you know the one where I almost break my back, then turned and saluted to the judges and ran to KJ and my team. The crowd was going nuts! I headed into the corral with no regrets and got ready to watch Charity and Chayse finish us off on beam. Charity hit the best routine I have seen her do all season with just a small step on her dismount.
"I couldn’t help but start to feel some 'Sooner Magic' as the crowd went wild."
I then realized we had hit five out of five routines so far with just Chayse left to anchor. Chayse ran up to me, I gave her a fist bump and she headed up the podium to do her routine. Chayse nailed her elegant yet strong routine with a stuck dismount and everyone went crazy.
We had done it. We crushed beam and Oklahoma was in the lead heading into floor.
Going into the bye before floor, I had no idea where we stood. All I knew was that we just had an amazing beam rotation, and all the scores between the teams were tight. It was a championship meet, so I would have expected nothing less. During the bye we got loose and had a little dance party, where KJ took the center of the circle. Her moves had everyone laughing, and she definitely stole the show.
Walking into the arena after the bye you could feel the energy erupting from the crowd. We walked over to the corral and the floor group started to prepare for the four-minute touch. As we stepped onto the podium, we all started jumping around and stretch out a little to get our muscles warm again.
We all watched as the clock counted down the seconds. As soon as it hit zero, we all started tumbling back and forth warming up our passes and leaps. After the four minutes were over, Coach Tom huddled us up and told us to tell a story to the whole arena through the choreography in our floor routines. We broke our huddle with a loud “floor” chant, then exited the podium for Natalie to start us off.
"In my head I just told myself, 'This is it for me. Let’s make it count.'"
Just like every other competition, I rushed to the corral to put my warmups and shoes on and then headed out to the arena to the washroom. I am never in the arena when our starter in the lineup takes the floor. After I got back, Chayse was getting ready to start. Her music started and I turned the other way. Me personally, I do not like to see how everyone is doing although I can tell by everyone in the crown and my teams’ reactions. Once her routine was finished the crowd went crazy, so I knew it had to have been a great routine. Next up was Keeley, then Charity, then AJ. One after another all I heard were loud roars from the crowd, and I saw my teammates jumping up and down from the corner of my eye.
During AJ’s routine, I have a ritual of taking my warmups off and folding them in a perfect pile. I stacked my jacket on top of my pants with the big OU facing up, then my shoes on top of that, and finished it off with my socks resting on top of my shoes. Hearing everyone going crazy for AJ’s routine always gets me pumped up, but folding my clothes almost helps me relax a little bit.
“Next up, Haley Scaman,” I said in my head while running up the podium steps and giving AJ a high five. I did my drills on the side of the floor while Tom was walking toward me to give me some pointers. He told me to have tight legs on my take-offs, straight and extended legs in my layout, turn my leaps all the way around, and compete with passion. He gave me a little pat on the shoulder, and it was time. Time to show everyone what Sooners are made of. Time to win a national championship. Time to compete the last routine of my entire life.
The head judge saluted me, and I took the floor. Going into my floor routine I had no idea the score we needed to win, or even where we stood at that point. In my head I just told myself, 'This is it for me. Let’s make it count.'
My music started, I counted to eight and then began the first movement of my routine. It just so happens that the first direction I look is toward the corral. I see my teammates sobbing, jumping, bending over and hugging each other. The crowd began to grow louder and louder and I knew that something had just happened. As I continued my dance getting ready to perform my first tumbling pass, all I could think of was “WE DID IT.”
I knew I still had to focus on my routine, but I honestly just wanted to be down there hugging and crying with my teammates. I finished up my routine and it was almost all a blur. The one thing I remembered about the routine was landing my last pass and thinking to myself, that was a great landing. Then I ran off the podium and was bear hugging and lifting AJ up.
One word I remember thinking about after the entire floor rotation was “electric.” We were electric from start to finish, and whether I was watching or not, I could tell by the energy all around me.
I could actually feel it.
I’ll never forget that feeling... ever.
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