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. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Gym'Backs advance to regional finals
Arkansas gymnastics coach Jordyn Wieber (left) is shown during an NCAA regional on Friday, April 2, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Photo courtesy Crimson Tide Photos, via SEC Pool)
A historic postseason performance Friday afternoon sent the University of Arkansas gymnastics team into tonight’s NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional finals.
The No. 10 Razorbacks led host and No. 7 Alabama through three rotations in the afternoon regional semifinal and notched a school postseason record 197.25 to advance with the session-winning Crimson Tide (197.525) into the regional finals at 7 p.m. The other participants will be the top two finishers from the Friday night session featuring No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 23 Missouri and Maryland. Covid issues forced No. 15 Auburn out of the regional.
Arkansas edged No. 19 Iowa (197.05) for the second spot in the regional final, while No. 20 Iowa State placed fourth in the early session with a 196.525.
“We had not only the hardest seeding in the whole NCAA on day one, but to have that and not have a perfect meet and still fight for every single routine, I’m just so proud,” second-year Coach Jordyn Wieber said. “We’re excited for day two, and hopefully we can be a little sharper and have a little bit less mistakes and keep everybody healthy and in one piece and go out tomorrow and have a lot of fun.”
Junior Kennedy Hambrick returned to her All-America form, scoring nothing lower than a 9.85 and finishing with a 39.55 in the all-around, good for second place behind Alabama’s Luisa Blanco (39.8). Hambrick was second on the balance beam (9.925).
Arkansas senior Sophia Carter scored 9.925 on the floor exercise to tie for the event title with Blanco and Iowa’s Jerquavia Henderson. Senior Maggie O’Hara’s 9.925 on the bars finished just off the podium behind three Alabama gymnasts.
Blanco scored a perfect 10 on the balance beam, and her Alabama teammate Makarri Doggette also posted a 10 on the uneven parallel bars.
Arkansas led the Crimson Tide by 0.15 points heading into the final rotation. The Razorbacks rang up a 49.25 on the vault in the fourth rotation, but Alabama surged with a 49.675 on the bars, the second-highest score on that apparatus all season behind Cal’s 49.825.
“We finished on vault, which is a strong event for us, but not our strongest,” Wieber said. “We had a fall in the middle of the lineup, but the back half just came through really, really strong and did their normal.
“It really came down to Iowa’s last routine on beam. It was just exciting to watch the scores and know we can fight with some of the top teams and we are one of the top teams and we moved on to day 2.”
Competing without ace sophomore Bailey Lovett (elbow), the Razorbacks got key contributions from several event specialists to soar past 197 for the fifth time this season and shake off a poor showing at the SEC Championships two weeks ago.
The top two finishers from tonight’s regional final will advance to the eight-team NCAA Championships in two weeks in Fort Worth.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Wieber said. “My goal for [Saturday] is to just go out there and really just trust that they can do it. Trust they can go up and hit routines and whatever happens, whether we make it on to Fort Worth or not, I could not be more proud of this team.”
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