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 saw big score, upset on the horizon
Arkansas coach Jordyn Wieber watches Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, during the Razorbacks' meet with Alabama in Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Jordyn Wieber knew the Arkansas Razorbacks gymnastics team could be on the brink of something big.
The way Wieber saw it, they just needed to get through a meet with four clean events to reap the success the University of Arkansas had been seeing in practice in the Bev Lewis Center.
On Friday night, the No. 23 Razorbacks made that move.
Arkansas overcame a deficit of 0.2 heading into the final rotation with a huge floor exercise, powering past No. 8 LSU, which was struggling on the balance beam, to post a school-record 197.475. The Razorbacks did it in front of the first sellout crowd at Barnhill Arena, a juiced-up group of 7,147.
“I’m just so happy the fans showed up tonight,” Wieber said. “The energy and enthusiasm was electric. You can tell our athletes really feed off of it. It just goes to show these athletes are fun to watch. They’re exciting and people want to come and show up for them.”
All five scorers in the floor exercise for Arkansas hit 9.9 or better. Sophomore Leah Smith scored an event-winning 9.95, freshman Lauren Williams from Bentonville nailed a 9.925, and senior Bailey Lovett, sophomore Maddie Jones and redshirt freshman Frankie Price each scored 9.9. The Razorbacks’ 49.575 floor score was the second-best in school history behind a 49.6 against Alabama in 2015.
The Razorbacks’ previous program-record score had been 197.425, accomplished in Wieber’s second season during a win at Auburn in 2021.
“I think it’s a really big confidence booster for our team,” Wieber said. “We’ve been working really hard at the plan and hoping that the plan comes together and now what we really want to see is just not, ‘Yay, we broke the program record,’ but we can do it consistently.”
Wieber said she felt the Razorbacks, whose previous high this season had been 196.675, had a big score like this in them.
“This is what we know we’re capable of, and we’re capable of even more,” she said. “There’s a few places we know we can clean up even more. I told the team before the meet started, ‘We’re not a three-event team. We’ve got to be a four-event team.’ I really challenged them to just make that decision tonight, decide what kind of team they wanted to be and show that and I feel like they did.”
The Razorbacks scored 49.25 or better on every event, including a 49.3 out of the gate on the vault, with nearly all stuck landings, highlighted by Williams’ 9.925.
Senior Norah Flatley won the uneven bars with a 9.925 to help the Razorbacks to a 49.35 in an event they had three major errors on two weeks ago.
Last week, Arkansas was within a tenth of a point at Auburn entering the final rotation before the beam produced three routines with major errors. On Friday, the Razorbacks had back-to-back beam routines with excessive reductions from Kennedy Hambrick and Cami Weaver. Though they did not have a fall, the Razorbacks lost a little ground while scoring 49.25 while LSU went 49.3 on the floor.
Those routines were bookended by 9.9s from freshman Cally Swaney and the anchor gymnast Flatley, after sophomore Kalyxta Gamaio led off with 9.875 and senior Kiara Gianfagna made her season debut with a big 9.85.
The Razorbacks (2-2, 1-2 SEC), who snapped a 25-meet losing streak to LSU and a nine-meet skid against regular season SEC competition, return to action Friday in a meet at Walton Arena against No. 2 Florida.
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