Oklahoma, Maggie Nichols Shine in Season-Opening Win At Georgia

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The defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners and star Maggie Nichols opened their season on the road in Athens, Georgia, in front of a sell-out Bulldog crowd. It was the second meet in four days for the GymDogs, who struggled in their opener against Alabama. 

Oklahoma came away with the win at Stegeman Coliseum, 197.550 to 196.600.

Five For Five

With injuries decimating the lineup, the GymDogs were forced to put up five athletes on uneven bars for the second meet in a row. And after GiGi Marino suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in Friday’s opener against Alabama, Georgia was forced to add both vault and floor to that last as well. 

Despite the added pressure, the GymDogs hit five for five on each of those events and did not count a score below 9.725. Freshman Marissa Oakley, who was coming off of some shoulder injuries during preseason, was a contributor on three events — vault, bars and beam — while sophomore Rachel Dickson and junior Sydney Snead were both solid and consistent for the GymDogs.

Prepared And Ready To Go

Oklahoma was the last of the top teams to start up this season and looked prepared to defend its national title. The Sooners hit uneven bars for a 49.425, which included 9.900s from junior Brenna Dowell, sophomore Nicole Lehrmann, and sophomore Maggie Nichols. 

On vault, Oklahoma showed four routines starting out of a 10.0 — and that was without Nichols and her Yurchenko one and a half in the lineup. Jade Degouveia, Dowell, and AJ Jackson all contributed Yurchenko one and a halfs while freshman Anastasia Webb competed an Omelianchik. Dowell had the top performance of the afternoon on vault with a beautiful, stuck one and a half that scored a 9.950.

Beam Redemption 

The GymDogs closed the meet in Tuscaloosa with a disastrous performance on balance beam on Friday night, scoring a 48.000 while counting two falls. On Monday afternoon it was an entirely new beam team for Georgia, as the GymDogs scored a 49.325 with zero falls. 

Rachel Dickson, Natalie Vaculik, and Marissa Oakley all stayed on the beam with Dickson earning a 9.900, Oakley a 9.800, and Vaculik a 9.675. Vivi Babalis tied Dickson and Oklahoma’s Bre Showers for the beam title with a 9.900.

Slip-ups For The Sooners

Oklahoma had a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes in the second half of the meet with a fall on floor from Degoveia and on balance beam from Jackson. Oklahoma rebounded well, though, with Nichols and Jackson both going 9.900 on floor. Lehrmann, Webb, and Nichols all handled the pressure well for the Sooners on beam. Despite the mistakes, Oklahoma tied Michigan for the top score in the country as the season moves into week three.

Swaggie Watch

Nichols was held out of the all-around in the season opener, where she competed on three events — uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise; she scored a 9.875 or better on all three. 

The sophomore standout earned event titles on both uneven bars and floor exercise. She opened on floor with a double tuck rather than the piked full-in that she used to start last season. Expect Nichols to add a more difficult opening pass as the season progresses. She did have minor knee surgery in the offseason, but according to KJ Kindler is in even better shape now. It marked the first competitive routines for Nichols since coming out last week as the first whistleblower in the Larry Nassar case.

Vega Stands Out

Sophomore Sabrina Vega was a standout performer for the GymDogs in their home opener. Vega, who did not vault as a freshman, has been needed on the event this season and was steady yet again in the lead-off position. 

She does not get a lot of power on her Yurchenko full, but it is clean in the air and she lands it well. For a Georgia squad short on vaulters, Vega is doing her job there. But where she shines is on beam and floor with solid, consistent work on both events. She has excellent dance skills and great tumbling on floor. Expect the sophomore to be a key piece for the GymDogs in 2018.

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Don Liebig, UCLA Photography

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