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.
Arkansas gymnasts take show to Fort Worth
Arkansas coach Jordyn Wieber watches Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, during the Razorbacks' meet with Alabama in Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks gymnastics team will take a one-week hiatus from their SEC dual-meet schedule to compete against a tough field in the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth at 7:30 tonight.
The University of Arkansas will enter the quad meet running hot following the first back-to-back scores of 197.4 or better in program history.
The No. 16 Razorbacks (2-3) notched a 197.475 to beat LSU before a sellout crowd at Barnhill Arena two weeks ago, then followed with a 197.4 in a loss to No. 2 Florida in front of a school-record crowd of 11,031 at Walton Arena.
The competition on the podium at the Fort Worth Convention Center will be tough, as the Razorbacks will face No. 1 Oklahoma (7-0), No. 11 Alabama (3-1) and No. 24 Stanford (6-1). The afternoon session at the venue will feature Georgia, Utah and Illinois State.
Fourth-year Arkansas Coach Jordyn Wieber said the team is rounding into a level of consistency after slip-ups on the uneven bars and then the balance beam in back-to-back meets cost the Razorbacks against Alabama and Auburn.
“In the years past, we’ve scored 197 here and there on a really, really great night but today I would say was a good night and not a really great night,” Wieber said after last week’s performance against Florida. “And they still were 197.4. So I think it’s really positive for the athletes.
“They’re fired up. They’re ready to continue to get better. … I think this gives the team more confidence now that they’ve proven they can do it more than once.”
Arkansas has just 19 scores of 197 or better in its history, all in the last 14 years, and eight of them have come under Wieber’s guidance.
The Arkansas roster is an interesting blend of veteran and youngsters.
Among the upperclassmen, Kennedy Hambrick, Bailey Lovett, Kiara Gianfagna and Jensen Scalzo are contributing mostly as event specialists, while transfer all-around gymnast Norah Flatley has been a huge addition.
A swath of talented youngsters in their first couple of years in the program have been stout the last couple of weeks, led by sophomores Kalyxta Gamaio, Maddie Jones and Leah Smith, redshirt freshmen Cami Weaver and Frankie Price, and true freshmen like Cally Swaney and Lauren Williams of Rogers.
The defending NCAA champion Sooners have won four of the last six titles and show no signs of slowing down. They have scored no lower than 197.6 in five competitions and have surpassed 198 each of the last two weeks.
Oklahoma ranks second in the nation on every event, led by all-arounder Jordan Bowers, whose average of 39.625 is sixth in the country.
Alabama escaped Barnhill with a win on Jan. 13 despite scoring just 196.525 as the Razorbacks had three major mistakes on the uneven bars. The Crimson Tide are led by all-around gymnasts Makarri Doggette and Luisa Blanco.
Stanford has scored better than 196.2 only twice but its only loss came against No. 7 California in a 197.525 to 196.075 setback on Jan. 28.
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