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.
Gym'Backs carry more depth
Arkansas gymnastics coach Jordyn Wieber is shown during a timeout in the Razorbacks' 87-43 basketball victory over Missouri on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Year 4 of the Jordyn Wieber era in the University of Arkansas gymnastics program begins today with extraordinary depth on the roster heading into the season opener at Nebraska.
The Razorbacks, ranked No. 15 in the preseason Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association poll, will face the Cornhuskers at 3 p.m. Central at the Devaney Center in Lincoln, Neb.
Fifth-year seniors Kennedy Hambrick and Bailey Lovett will be joined by UCLA transfer Norah Flatley among the Razorbacks’ group of veterans, which will be supplemented by a large array of underclassmen who are expected to contribute across the board.
“This is probably the most depth we’ve had in a while,” Wieber said. “We’ve got a lot of athletes ready on a lot of events. We’ll be playing with the lineups a lot throughout the season, just trying to figure out who are those core six on every event.”
Wieber does not anticipate putting any athletes up in the all-around at Nebraska, not even Hambrick, an all-American who has competed in all four events at all but a couple of meets in her four-year career.
Lovett, who is in the UA Law School, will be back as she was last year with her big contributions on the balance beam and floor exercise, where her big-elevation double layout has been a crowd-pleaser for years.
Hambrick is expected to compete on the uneven bars and the balance beam against Nebraska and add the more leg-oriented events, the vault and floor exercise, in the coming weeks.
“We’re relieving some of our all-arounders every now and then when we can just to help them last to the postseason so they can be at their best when it matters the most,” Wieber said.
Other potential all-arounders like Flatley and sophomore Leah Smith will add events as the season goes on.
Lauren Williams of Rogers leads the list of freshmen who are expected to contribute. Williams is expected to compete in three events today.
The Razorbacks went 5-0 versus nonconference competition during the regular season last year before falling to Oklahoma, Minnesota and California at the NCAA Norman (Okla.) Regional.
Wieber said she hopes the Razorbacks are in position to dominate in non-SEC meets and improve their record against conference teams after going 0-7 in league competition.
“Nebraska’s a great place for us to travel to,” Wieber said. “They’re a good team. I think it’ll be a good test for our team. Nebraska is a team we probably should be beating at this point.
“But we need to go in and do our job nonetheless. My message to the team this week is don’t try to be perfect, but we need to start strong. We need to look like ourselves out there and be confident in the training we’ve put in.”
Arkansas and Nebraska competed last March 13 at the Denver Quad meet. The Razorbacks won the event with a 196.975, while the Cornhuskers placed third at 195.75.
The Cornhuskers are coming off a sixth-place finish with a 196.45 in last year’s Big Ten Championships without qualifying for an NCAA regional.
The Razorbacks should get routines out of a couple of gymnasts who were out with injuries last year in redshirt freshmen Frankie Price and Cami Weaver, who was injured on her vault landing in her collegiate debut.
Wieber has led the Razorbacks to the top two team scores in school history and five of the Razorbacks’ nine scores of 197.2 or better. Her teams have also posted school-record event scores in the vault (49.5) and balance beam (49.45) as well as second-best scores on the uneven bars (49.55) and floor exercise (49.575).
The 27-year-old said the team dynamic and overall health are strong heading into the opener.
“I might say this every year but this is the most fired up and goal oriented I’ve seen our program since I’ve been here,” Wieber said. “We’ve had great training. The team has worked very hard.
“The one standout element that I’ve sen from the team is grit. That’s actually one of their themes for our team. … They came up with it. But I’ve seen it every day. They are mentally and physically tougher this year, which has made training a lot better. It’s allowed them to push themselves a little bit harder.”
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.