Tom Murphy is a sports 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. He was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Razorbacks hit road to No. 4 Florida
Arkansas gymnast Kennedy Hambrick competes against Auburn during an NCAA gymnastics meet on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas gymnastics program is nearing full capacity after a multi-week run of covid issues, but the No. 13 Razorbacks will not quite be at full strength for tonight’s SEC road opener at No. 4 Florida.
Coach Jordyn Wieber said freshman Kalyxta Gamaio will be sidelined for the 7:30 p.m. Central meet versus the Gators (5-0, 2-0 SEC) at the O’Connell Center, which will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
Gamaio has been slowed by an undisclosed preseason injury. Otherwise, the Razorbacks are almost back in full force, through some gymnasts who have been through covid protocols might not go up on their full capacity of routines tonight.
“Gymnastics is one of those sports where if you take five or six days off, whether that means you’re a close contact or a covid positive and it takes at least another week to get back to normal,” Wieber said. “Really, you can’t jump back into full routines right away.
“So this extra week and having a few extra days over the weekend to get in a healthier place and having a few of our athletes catch up again has been really, really good and I’m feeling confident about where we are with our lineup.”
Last time out, the Razorbacks surged to a 197.2, well above their season-opening 195.45, but that came before the postponement of last week’s scheduled road opener at LSU due to covid issues at Arkansas.
The postponed competition will be made up on Feb. 20 as part of an SEC tri-meet between Arkansas, LSU and Missouri in Columbia, Mo. The LSU-Missouri dual meet scheduled for Jan. 14 was also postponed due to covid protocols in the LSU program.
Florida has competed all three available weekends, and the Gators seem in mid-season form, with a hefty 197.675 on he opening weekend to win a quad meet, a 197.0 to beat Alabama in the O’Connell Center, and a 196.975 to rout Georgia by an 2.5 points last weekend.
Florida returns all 24 routines from the 2021 NCAA team finals, and seven gymnasts who account for 40 All-America honors in Alyssa Baumann, Leah Clapper, Nya Reed, Savannah Schoenherr, Megan Skaggs and Trinity Thomas. The Gators’ five-member freshman class of Sloane Blakely, Bri Edwards, Morgan Hurd, Riley McCusker and Leanne Wong all bring strong credentials, including the No. 1 class ranking by CollegeGymFans.com.
Florida has won 22 consecutive meets against the Razorbacks, including 10 dual meets in a row dating to a 196.7-196.1 loss at Barnhill Arena in 2011.
“This is our first road meet so it’s going to be a really good experience for some of our young ones to get in a different environment, although in a lot of ways going from Barnhill over to Bud Walton was almost like a good practice of what a road meet feels like,” Wieber said. “It’s a different arena, a different environment.
“The only difference is the fans won’t be cheering for us this time. But I’m excited to see the way the teams responds getting on new set of equipment in another SEC arena where the energy is always really good.”
The Razorbacks will be led by senior Kennedy Hambrick, who ranks 15th in the NCAA among all-around performers, seniors Amanda Elswick, Bailey Lovett and Maggie O’Hara, and freshmen all-arounder Leah Smith.
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