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.
Razorback gymnasts fighting through challenging season
Arkansas gymnast Kennedy Hambrick competes against Auburn during an NCAA gymnastics meet on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
FAYETTEVILLE — Injuries, postponements, snowstorms, covid and cancellations have all conspired to keep the University of Arkansas gymnastics team from finding consistency through the first two months of the season.
Third-year Coach Jordyn Wieber thinks the Razorbacks can start pointing toward peak performances with the postseason on the horizon.
Arkansas (2-5, 0-5 SEC) hosts No. 26 Georgia (2-6, 0-5) at 8 tonight in Barnhill Arena, with the Razorbacks honoring seven seniors and both teams looking for their first SEC win.
“I’m feeling the best about it this week as I have so far this season,” Wieber said. “I’ve been talking about covid every week, but it’s just slowly affected our team with one or two out every week.
“We’ve just put one foot in front of the other and I’m really proud of that. We’ve had some really awesome moments this season but by no means have we reached our peak.”
Senior Kennedy Hambrick is expected to return to her normal spot in the all-around along with freshman Leah Smith after missing a meet due to covid protocols then returning on three events in Sunday’s tri-meet losses at Missouri.
Hambrick will join the senior crew of Sarah Shaffer, Amanda Elswick, Bailey Lovett, Maggie O’Hara, Abby Johnston and Savannah Pennese in pre-meet festivities.
Wieber said conversations have been ongoing regarding potential returns for some of the five seniors who have an extra season of eligibility available due to the coronavirus allowance. Graduate seniors O’Hara and Shaffer are not eligible but the rest are.
Wieber said she didn’t want to spoil any announcements but added, “I think Razorback Nation will be very excited when they do see some of those seniors come back for next year.”
Because the Razorbacks could not compete in their scheduled road meet at LSU on Jan. 21 due to covid issues, they do not have the requisite number of road scores to count toward a National Qualifying Score, which kicked in this week. Their scoring average of 196.442 would rank 16th under the criteria in place prior to this week.
The Razorbacks are coming off a solid 196.8 last week, which trailed host Missouri and LSU, who both scored in the 197s.
“A 196.8 is a decent away score for us. Last year it would’ve been a fantastic score for us,” Wieber said. “The reality is we’re more talented this year and we’re capable of much more.
“We always want to be shooting for that 197 range. We’ve gotten there twice this season and we’re absolutely capable of doing that. As long as we go up and do our job and we don’t have to count a fall we will be in that 197 range. That’s the goal for this Friday.”
O’Hara, the program’s first regular season All-American on the uneven bars last year, and Shaffer, the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2018, have had memorable careers. O’Hara will be going through her third senior night in a row after competing in her first as a senior at Michigan in 2020.
“I can’t say enough good things about both of them,” Wieber said. “Maggie having transferred and coming here and just being a light and a leader for this program. I’m just so proud of her and grateful she decided to come to Arkansas.
“And then a completely different scenario for Sarah Shaffer, who has been here for six years and has truly left her legacy and mark on Arkansas gymnastics. I just can’t wait to see her compete in Barnhill for one last time.”
Georgia has dominated the series with a 36-6-1 all-time edge. However, Arkansas has won four of the last eight and two in a row in the series, including a 196.875 to 195.95 decision last year in the Razorbacks’ first win in Athens, Ga., in series history.
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