As Madison Mooring took the floor Friday night inside the Cox Convention Center, the senior OU gymnast looked into the crowd and saw something familiar — a reflection of her former self.
Hundreds of aspiring young gymnasts watched Mooring and the No. 1 Sooners place first in the Perfect 10 Challenge, defeating No. 5 Alabama, No. 7 Michigan and West Virginia.
The Sooners finished with 197.2 points at the event, which was held at the Cox Convention Center as part of the Bart and Nadia Sports Experience.
Mooring, a Bixby graduate who competed for Oklahoma City's Dynamo Gymnastics club team, was once the young girl in the crowd at OU gymnastics meets, idolizing the cast of athletes she would eventually join.
“I know they look up to us and it's cool to inspire them,” Mooring said. “I know that I was there at some point. My first meet (at OU), I just couldn't believe I was out there with the people that I watched do it so many times.”
Four years go by quickly. Every meet Mooring suits up for is now one closer to her last for the Sooners. Ask Mooring what stands out the most in that time and she'll point back to the day coach K.J. Kindler first offered her a scholarship.
“My mom was freaking out,” Mooring said. “It was huge for me and my family to make it here.”
Since then, Mooring has notched two first-team All-American selections and was the national runner-up on the vault as a freshman. Darla Mooring, her mother, hasn't missed a single home or away meet this season.
Mooring's leadership this season is an extension of her original passion for the program. Kindler said that's evident from every team photo taken, prominently featuring Mooring with her hands in the air and an ear-to-ear smile.
“Tons of heart,” Kindler said. “She's totally involved and engaged with what's going on.”
Fueled by last year's team runner-up finish in the national championship and her last go-round in a crimson and cream leotard, Mooring is aiming her personal goals high while keeping a level head.
“We'll have that edge going into nationals,” Mooring said. “It's been a good start.”
The Sooners entered the seventh week of the season as the nation's top-ranked team — right where Kindler wants to be.
“It's tough to be No. 1,” Kindler said. “You've got a target on your back and people are always trying to prove maybe that you're not there. Our goal has been to win a national championship all year long, so this is a position we want to be in.
“I think we're surprising some people and hopefully setting the stage for what will happen in April.”