Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
UA gymnasts face a test against best
NWA Media/ANDY SHUPE -- Arkansas co-head coach Mark Cook speaks to senior Amy Borsellino before her performance on the bars during a meet with Georgia Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in Barnhil Arena on the UA campus in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE The last time Florida’s gymnastics team rolled into Fayetteville with a No. 1 ranking to face a struggling Arkansas team, it left with a stinging defeat.
The Gators are back tonight, sporting another No. 1 ranking against the No. 22 Razorbacks, who posted their first victory of the season last week.
Arkansas’ annual Pink Meet, which starts at 7 p.m. at Barnhill Arena, will pit two programs that will compete for the eighth consecutive time with one of the teams atop the rankings.
“We always like to go against the best,” Arkansas Co-Coach Rene Lyst said. “Florida is always good. You know they’re a solid team, they’re coached well and they have phenomenal athletes.”
No. 1 Florida at No. 22 Arkansas
WHEN 7 p.m.
WHERE Barnhill Arena, Fayetteville
RECORDS Florida 3-1 (2-1 SEC); Arkansas 1-2 (0-2)
Florida’s last visit to Fayetteville ended in a 196.7 to 196.1 defeat to the No. 15 Razorbacks on Feb. 25, 2011. That started the streak of meets with one of the teams ranked No. 1, including top-ranked Arkansas’ 197.775 to 196.7 loss to No. 8 Florida in Gainesville, Fla., last season.
The Gators (3-1, 2-1 SEC) are coming off their own Pink Meet for breast cancer awareness in which they scored 197.65 points, the NCAA’s best mark of the year.
“We know we have a long way to go,” Florida Coach Rhonda Faehn said. “I’m proud of the way they’ve competed so far.”
Florida sophomore Kytra Hunter posted a 39.7 in the all around last week, the nation’s best score, which included 9.975 on the vault and 9.925 on the floor exercise, to pull down SEC gymnast of the week honors. Other Gators standouts include senior All-Americans Ahsane’e Dickerson and Marissa King, freshman Bridget Sloan, and junior Mackenzie Caquatto, who scored a 10 on the uneven bars in victory over Missouri on Jan. 18.
The Gators have at least one gymnast in the top 10 of all five events.
Arkansas (1-2, 0-2) is coming off a season-best 195.775 in its victory over No. 11 Denver last week. The Razorbacks, averaging just 194.775, showed signs of attaining some consistency after a disastrous road loss at Kentucky the week before and would like to start scoring 196 or better with regularity.
“We wanted to get over that 196 mark [last week],” Lyst said, “and while that’s disappointing, it’s encouraging at the same time in that we kind of got back on the right track of competing, not counting falls, being aggressive, getting some lineup positions solidified and moving forward.”
Arkansas junior Katherine Grable ranks ninth in the all around (39.45), fifth on the floor exercise and tied for 20th on the vault. Freshman Erin Freier had her best meet last week, winning the uneven bars with a 9.85 and contributing solid scores on the balance beam and vault. Fellow freshman Sydnie Dillard tied Grable with a 9.8 on the beam last week.
The Razorbacks are clear underdogs against Florida, but they were two years ago after coming off a home loss to BYU.
“[Let’s] see if we can keep improving, see how close we can get to them or give them a little run for their money there or maybe come out on top,” Lyst said. “You just never know how the night goes.”
Arkansas has won its past two meets against Florida at Barnhill Arena, with the Gators last winning in Fayetteville in 2007. … Florida leads the all-time series 28-3, including a 197.775 to 196.3 edge in last year’s Super Six. … As part of Arkansas’ Pink Meet promotion, fans who wear pink will receive $1 general admission tickets.
Sports, Pages 22 on 02/01/2013