Two UA gymnasts have national hopes

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, April 14, 2017
Jessica Yamzon of Arkansas competes on the floor against Missouri Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Anthony Reyes
Jessica Yamzon of Arkansas competes on the floor against Missouri Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.

Freshman all-arounder Jessica Yamzon and junior vault specialist Braie Speed will represent the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville as individual competitors at the NCAA gymnastics championships today at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis.

Yamzon will rotate with No. 4 Utah, which won the NCAA Fayetteville Regional two weeks ago with a 197.15, in today's noon semifinal. Speed will rotate with defending national champion and No. 1 Oklahoma, whose 198.075 was the best team score among the six regionals by a hefty margin of 0.625 over No. 2 LSU.

At a glance

NCAA Gymnastics Championships

Who Arkansas gymnasts Jessica Yamzon (all-around) and Braie Speed (vault) competing as individuals

When Noon today

Where Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis

Noteworthy Oklahoma, Utah, Denver, UCLA, Washington and Oregon State will compete in the noon semifinal; LSU, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Nebraska will compete in the 7 p.m. semifinal. The top three teams from each session will compete in the Super Six on Saturday at 8 p.m. … Yamzon is one of 12 all-around performers competing as individuals. Speed is one of three vault specialists competing as individuals. … Oklahoma is the defending NCAA champion at the No. 1 seed.

"I think it'll be super fun," said Yamzon, who competed in all four events in Arkansas' 12 meets. "I have a few friends on the Utah team that I was in club with. I've gotten to know them over the years, so it'll be fun."

Yamzon earned her way to nationals with a 39.175, the second-highest all-around score from a gymnast not on a qualifying team from the regional. Speed, who had knee surgery two years ago, qualified with a 9.9, which tied for the event title at Barnhill Arena.

"I didn't expect that at all," Speed said. "That wasn't on my mind at all because I was focused on qualifying as a team.

"I also didn't think I had the capability. So when I did make it, it was awesome and super surprising. It's just helped me a lot to realize that even after my injury I can still do the things I used to do."

No. 19 Arkansas did not qualify for the national championships, though its score of 196.6 at the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Barnhill Arena was better than that of two qualifiers: Washington (196.55) and Oregon State (196.15).

Arkansas Coach Mark Cook said the focus is different for gymnasts competing as individuals.

"You feel a little isolated as an individual," he said. "When we had regionals here, we had an individual with us and we tried to embrace her and make her feel comfortable.

"It's hard for those individuals because they don't have their teammates around them. So the security blanket, the emotional energy around them is different."

Six teams will compete in the two sessions today at noon and 7 p.m. The top three finishers from each session will compete in the Super Six at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Sports on 04/14/2017

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