Oklahoma prepares for NCAAs without 'spiritual leader' Karrie Thomas on the floor

Other gymnasts will have to step into her role as the Sooners go for their fifth national championship in the last eight years
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Injuries have scrambled Oklahoma’s 2020 gymnastics season for most of the last three months.

That trend continues as the Sooners prepare for this weekend’s NCAA Championships in Fort Worth.

Coach K.J. Kindler revealed during a video press conference on Tuesday that senior Karrie Thomas would be unable to compete at the event.

“Karrie was injured during the regional championship, and she did everything she could to try to get back,” Kindler said, “but it's just not possible with the severity of her injury.”

Kindler said a handful of Thomas’ teammates will step up to take her place — “which is very difficult,” Kindler added — as the Sooners try to win their fifth national championship since 2014.

“She's a tough person to replace,” Kindler said.

Jordan Draper will be stepping in for her on bars, and on balance beam, Jenna Dunn will be stepping in for her — with Evy Schoepfer, you know, waiting in the wings on that event.”

Kindler said replacing Thomas’ experience shouldn’t be a tall task.

“Jordan has tons of experience because she was in the lineup the first half of the year or maybe even about three quarters of the year,” Kindler said. “So she is not a stranger to this lineup. Understands the pressure, has been great under pressure.

“And then Jenna, obviously, same thing — probably seven eighths of the season was in that beam lineup. So this is old hat for her. She's stepping right in no issues.”

But Kindler said Thomas brings a “leadership component” that she’s trying to keep in place by bringing Thomas to the championship despite a COVID-restricted travel party.

“The good news is we won't have to replace her leadership,” Kindler said, “because she'll be down on the floor with them. Her leadership is imperative to our success. so I'm very happy about that and she's on board.

“She's very disappointed. To have fought so hard and gotten this far and then, in that very last routine of the regional, you know, had that, that injury.”

Kindler said Thomas’ presence will carry weight with her teammates, whether she’s competing or not.

“Carrie is — you probably can see her on the sidelines — she's a verbal leader, a spiritual leader for our team,” Kindler said. “ … She's nurturing, OK? Kind of motherly. So she sees if somebody's going down the wrong path mentally or in a rut or needs a pep talk, you know, she's that person. She's very intuitive. And that person is irreplaceable. You know, to me, because that person keeps keeps the wheels turning. And she certainly does that.

“You know, she knows how to read the room. She knows how to see who needs her help and assistance. She's a giver. And so those are the those are the intangibles she brings to our team that are irreplaceable — beyond her gymnastics, which she has really stepped up her game this year and her contribution. So overall, it's a big loss for us.”

For the Sooners, Thomas’ injury is just another of many obstacles this team has overcome this season.

“We’re very excited to finally be at the culmination of our season,” Kindler said. “It’s been long and hard-fought year for us from the get go, and really, it started last March. So this is really rewarding for our team.

“Especially with the ups and downs we’ve had this season, definitely navigating a lot of injuries we had this season, and having our lineups really shuffled from January until now. And it doesn’t stop now. We still have things going on.”