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.
Wieber: Team needs more consistency on bars
Arkansas' Sarah Shaffer competes Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, in the bars portion of the Razorbacks' match with Ohio State in Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — A season of covid concerns, postponements and inconsistency has boiled down to this reality for the University of Arkansas gymnastics program.
The Razorbacks (2-6, 0-6 SEC) must win on the road on No. 7 Alabama’s senior night tonight to avoid becoming the second Arkansas team to go winless in SEC competition in the program’s 20th season.
The Razorbacks’ final dual meet of the year against the Crimson Tide (5-4, 3-3 SEC) is part of a rare weekend double, as Arkansas will also compete in the “Elevate the Stage” meet at 1 p.m. Sunday featuring Alabama, No. 6 Auburn and No. 28 Georgia in Huntsville, Ala.
Arkansas lost a golden opportunity to get a breakthrough at home last week against Georgia, but had to count two falls on the uneven bars while falling 196.975 to 196.1. The falls came from seniors Kennedy Hambrick, Sarah Shaffer and Maggie O’Hara after freshmen Leah Smith and Maddie Jones and sophomore Jensen Scalzo hit their routines.
“I definitely expect a more consistent performance on bars,” third-year Arkansas Coach Jordyn Wieber said. “That honestly should be our best event. When we have all of our hit routines back-to-back-to back we’re pretty unstoppable on that event. But we’ve been dealing with some consistency issues.
“It’s not a lack of talent. It’s not a lack of training. It’s really a mental challenge for this team. I’m just hopeful they’re able to figure it out this week in the gym and go out and have a strong performance against Alabama.”
Arkansas will finally get a national qualifying score after the Friday meet, as a postponement at LSU early in the season prevented the Razorbacks from having enough road scores to be eligible for the ranking. Their average score of 196.393 would slot in at 17th in the current rankings.
The Crimson Tide are coming off a 197.5 in a home win over Missouri, their sixth consecutive meet with a 197-plus, including fourth at 197.5 or better.
Alabama is led by Luisa Blanco, who scored a season-high 39.725 to win the all-around last week. Alabama’s Lexi Graber is the reigning SEC specialist of the week after winning the floor exercise with a 9.975.
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