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 go back to Walton for Senior Night
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 — Senior night at Walton Arena tonight at 7 will pose an opportunity for the No. 16 University of Arkansas gymnastics team to push further into territory it has rarely traveled.
The Razorbacks will host No. 19 Minnesota in their second meet at Walton this season while sporting a 197.0 national qualifying score, the second-highest in program history at the stage of a season.
Arkansas (4-7), under fourth-year Coach Jordyn Wieber, will have a chance to remove a 196.65 from its NSQ calculation with a strong performance today.
“Our goal is to have a mid-197 at this meet,” Wieber said. “If we can get in that mid-197 range that would give us a pretty big bump as far as NQS and that might actually put us maybe somewhere in the 13, 14 [ranking] range, depending on how the other schools do.
“We’re sitting in a really good spot. I feel like being able to drop that 196.6 is a good goal and something we’re completely capable of.”
Five seniors will be recognized, in graduate students Kennedy Hambrick, Bailey Lovett and Norah Flatley, and fourth-year seniors Kiara Gianfagna and Madison Hickey. The latter two came in as freshman in Wieber’s debut season of 2020 and Flatley, who projects as the team’s lone all-arounder tonight, transferred in this season from UCLA.
“They’ve been a part of the building process and the growth,” Wieber said.
Four of the seniors were also involved in the program’s first meet at Walton Arena last year against Auburn.
“When we come in here it feels so homey and so special,” Wieber said. “I’m really glad for them that they get to finish out their careers here in the building. My hope is we can compete well and not make too big a deal that it’s senior night, but just do really good gymnastics and finish on a really great note.”
The Razorbacks have had an interesting season, with four scores of 197 or better, including a school-record 197.475 in a win over LSU. However, they’ve also had four meets with one-event collapses, which cropped up in recent losses at Kentucky (beam) and at home against Missouri (floor).
Arkansas bounced back from those meets with a winning score of 197.15 last week at Georgia. That gave the Razorbacks their 21st score of 197 or better in program history, with more than half of them (11) coming in Wieber’s four seasons.
“I will say it felt like a better performance than a 197.1,” Wieber said of the meet that was moved to Duluth, Ga., site of next week’s SEC championships, due to problems with the ceiling at Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum. “The judging was a little bit weird on two out of the four events. I know Georgia agreed as well. It was a little bit tight.
“But we really felt like, and the team said this as well, that we kind of re-set our base line after a couple of rough competitions on one event. They just went out and hit consistent routines and then there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.”
The Razorbacks rocked it on the uneven bars with a 49.475 last week, which came after consecutive school records of 49.525 on the vault and the beam, respectively, in the prior two meets.
Minnesota (9-6-1) maxed out at 197.6 in a win over Boise State last week, one of the Golden Gophers’ two scores of 197 or better this season under ninth-year Coach Jenny Hansen, a former Minnesota All-American. The Gophers advanced to the NCAA’s out of last year’s NCAA Norman Regional with a 197.725 while Arkansas was eliminated with a 196.675.
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