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.
Gym'Backs hope to ride momentum into meet at Bud Walton Arena
An announced crowd of 10,345 is shown during a gymnastics meet between Arkansas and Auburn on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The meet was the Razorbacks' first ever in the school's basketball arena.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas gymnastics team would like to transfer the energy and attendance, and most importantly the result, of last week’s program-record win over No. 8 LSU at Barnhill Arena into Walton Arena tonight.
The No. 18 Razorbacks host No. 2 Florida at 7 p.m. in the biggest arena on campus, following the debut of gymnastics in the venue last year, when a record crowd of 10,345 attended a narrow loss to Auburn.
Competing in front of a sellout crowd of 7,147, a first for the program, Arkansas notched a 197.475, the best score in school history last week. The Razorbacks overcame a deficit of 0.2 points in the final rotation to surge past LSU and snap a 25-meet losing streak to the Tigers.
“It’s great to come off a high like last week’s meet with LSU, but we also know that our goals are still ahead of us,” fourth-year Arkansas Coach Jordyn Wieber said. “We’ve got to continue working and use this as a stepping stone.
“Obviously it always feels good to win and that’s a great confidence booster, especially against a great team like LSU, So we take that away from last weekend. But the scores are really what we’re shooting for and we’ve got to continue getting better and that mid-197 range is about where we should be right now when we’re at our best.”
Florida (6-0, 3-0 SEC) has a huge streak of its own going.
The Gators are 24-0-1 in their last 25 regular-season SEC meets, following last week’s season-high 197.9 in a win over Georgia, breaking the conference record for consecutive meets without a loss.
“Our team gets excited about big competitions,” Wieber said. “I think you saw that the last two weeks against Auburn and LSU. These are tough teams to beat.”
Lauren Williams of Rogers is the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week after scoring 9.925 on both the vault and the floor exercise.
Williams was part of an Arkansas floor team that posted a 49.575, the second-highest score in school history, to overtake LSU. The scoring quintet on that rotation also included event-winner Leah Smith (9.95), and the trio of Maddie Jones, Bailey Lovett and Frankie Price, who all posted 9.9s. It did not include senior Norah Flatley, who was being rested from the all-around.
Flatley, a UCLA transfer, has been the Razorbacks’ most consistent performer with six event titles and one all-around win against Alabama on the young season. Wieber said she’s expected to compete in the all-around against the Gators.
Arkansas gymnasts got an extended mental break with school being out most of the week due to the winter storm. The Razorbacks practiced on Thursday in Walton Arena to get a feel for the venue.
“I’m hopeful that everyone who was in Barnhill last week loved it and had a blast and is excited to come back and support our team versus Florida on Friday,” Wieber said. “Having a similar crowd as we had last year at Walton would be amazing.
“That’s one of the highlights for me from Friday night beyond the gymnastics and winning the meet was just the fan base and the energy we had in that arena. I can’t tell you how many people I had come up to me and said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen Barnhill like that before.’
“I credit that a lot to our fans for showing up and the student section and the energy it provided our team. Hopefully we can simulate but in a different arena, a bigger arena, and get a few more people into the stands.”
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