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 always up for big challenge
Arkansas' Stephani Canizaro competes in the bars during a meet with Kentucky Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Senior night for Arkansas gymnastics won’t be against a pushover.
The No. 16 Razorbacks will take on powerful No. 2 Oklahoma at 7 tonight in Barnhill Arena as the program honors seniors Katherine Grable, Shelby Salmon, Scarlett Williams and Bailee Zumwalde.
The Sooners (14-2) will represent the sixth top-10 opponent for Arkansas (5-5), and the seventh time in the past eight meets the Razorbacks have competed against a top-12 team.
Arkansas, coming off an upset at No. 9 Nebraska last weekend, will try to break 197 for the second time.
“Going against Florida and LSU, that definitely prepared us,” Grable said. “Even last weekend, Nebraska is a really good team, so going against OU, it’s just another meet where we have to be focused and do our routines.”
Arkansas co-Coach Mark Cook said just have to worry about themselves.
“OU is ranked very high, but we can’t control what they do,” he said. “All we cando is take care of what we do.”
“They’re great competitors, and we feel like we’re just as good if we just continue to do what we do in practice and hit our routines,” Zumwalde said.
Grable, one of six finalists for the American Athletic Inc. Award, which is given to the top senior in women’s gymnastics, has won or tied for the all-around title in eight of nine meets. She is ranked No. 2 nationally with a 39.6 regional qualifying score inthe all-around.
Salmon, Williams and Zumwalde add key routines for the Razorbacks on all four events.
“They bring different things to the table,” Cook said of the seniors. “The leadership this year has been awesome, and they’ve really worked their butts off and shown good character.”
Oklahoma, whose only losses have been to current No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Florida, has a scoring average of 197.473 and a regional qualifying score of 197.64. The Sooners are ranked No. 1 on both the balance beam and the floor exercise.
The Razorbacks host an NCAA Regional on April 5, so this meet will not mark the final appearance for Arkansas’ seniors.
“Definitely a bittersweet feeling because it’s senior night, but with postseason coming up, we’re also looking forward to that,” Zumwalde said.
“We’ve talked about it and we don’t want it to be a sad thing, like it’s our last meet,” Grable said. “We want to have fun, and we still have the most important part of our schedule coming up.”
Sports, Pages 17 on 03/14/2014