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 final
Arkansas gymnast Kennedy Hambrick competes against Auburn during an NCAA gymnastics meet on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
The No. 18 Arkansas Razorbacks continued their late-season surge on Thursday behind senior Kennedy Hambrick and riding a hot start on the uneven bars to a second-place finish in the night session of the NCAA Norman Regional to qualify for Saturday’s regional final in Norman, Okla.
The host and No. 1 ranked Oklahoma put up a blistering 198.175 to run away with the session, but the competition for second place was hot, with the University of Arkansas scoring 196.975 to hold off No. 32 Arizona (196.8) and No. 16 Arizona State (196.55).
Hambrick captured the all-around with a season-high 39.575, scoring 9.9 on three events and a 9.875 on the balance beam.
In the earlier session, No. 8 Minnesota posted a 197.825 to lead the way, and No. 9 California advanced to the regional final as well with a 197.375.
The Gophers, led by all-around gymnasts Lexy Ramler and Ona Loper who tied for the session title with 39.675s, and Bears outpaced Utah State (196.825) and Boise State (196.425).
The Razorbacks got big contributions from seniors behind Hambrick, with Bailey Lovett, Sarah Shaffer, Maggie O’Hara, Amanda Elswick and Savannah Pennese all providing quality scoring.
Shaffer helped Arkansas get off to a great start with a career-high 9.95 to place second behind Oklahoma’s Jordan Bowers (9.975) on the bars.
Arkansas posted a season-best 49.45 on the bars with no counting score lower than 9.85. Hambrick and freshman Maddie Jones scored 9.9 on the apparatus, while O’Hara and sophomore Jensen Scalzo posted 9.85s.
The Razorbacks dipped to 49.075 on their strongest event, the balance beam, with Hambrick’s 9.875 leading the way.
Arkansas rebounded on the floor exercise, topped by Lovett’s 9.925, which was good for a tie for second place behind Bowers (9.95). Hambrick and Jones again tied with 9.9s, Savannah Pennese added a 9.85 and Shaffer came in with a 9.8.
The Razorbacks entered the final rotation with a 0.35 lead over Arizona and held the Wildcats off despite putting on five gymnasts on the vault. Hambrick’s 9.9 tied for third on the event.
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