Arkansas gymnastics team can make history at LSU

Arkansas gymnasts cheer as teammate Lauren Williams competes in the floor exercise Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, during the Razorbacks' meet with Auburn in Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville. (Andy Shupe/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

The University of Arkansas gymnastics team has grown accustomed to posting program firsts under fifth-year Coach Jordyn Wieber, such as a school-record score of 197.525 two weeks ago at Alabama.

The No. 7 Razorbacks can turn another kind of feat tonight if they can overcome No. 5 LSU at the Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La., at 7:30 p.m. Central.

Arkansas gymnasts have never competed through the first four weekends of a season without a loss.

The Razorbacks (2-0-1, 2-0-1 SEC) can do that with a tie or win against the Tigers (4-2, 1-1 SEC) at an arena where Arkansas has won once in 11 competitions.

Wieber said this week it takes a combination of factors to be on point for a strong road performance as the Razorbacks were during the tie at Alabama on Jan. 19.

“The first and foremost and most important is just being prepared,” Wieber said. “This team, we’ve really focused on confidence and you don’t develop confidence without being prepared. Preparation is something we focused on from Day 1 in the preseason, and it showed up.

“That first [road] meet we looked prepared and we looked confident because we were. I think that has motivated them week to week to come in the gym and stay prepared and not be complacent.”

Arkansas has opened with three consecutive 197-plus scores for the first time in school history, giving the program 15 of its 25 197s under Wieber.

The Razorbacks were not in peak form for last week’s 197.225 score before a sold-out crowd of 7,147 at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville, but they were good enough to down Auburn by 0.55 and snap a 6-meet losing streak in the series.

Arkansas’ record against LSU is more lopsided as the Razorbacks have won just one of the past 27 competitions. That came in a 197.475-197.25 decision at Barnhill Arena on Jan. 27, 2023, which stood as the school scoring record until the 197.525 at Tuscaloosa, Ala., two weeks ago.

At its best, LSU can match athleticism and scoring potential with any program. The Tigers posted a 198.125 — the second-best score in the country this season — in a home win over Kentucky two weeks ago. But they followed it with a 197.225 in a loss by a tenth of a point at Missouri last week.

“Certainly when you’re coming out of a disappointment, getting back in front of your home crowd can be a tremendous boost,” fourth-year LSU Coach Jay Clark said. “We have a great opponent with Arkansas coming in here Friday and we want this place to be sold out.”

LSU’s Haleigh Bryant is the nation’s top all-around gymnast with an average score of 39.708.

Arkansas has four athletes ranked in the top 25 of their events in average score. Rogers sophomore Lauren Williams is seventh in the floor exercise at 9.925, junior Kalyxta Gamiao is 19th on the balance beam (9.892), junior Maddie Jones is 22nd in the floor exercise (9.908) and sophomore Cami Weaver is 24th on the vault (9.875). Jones is 26th on the balance beam (9.883) and sophomore Frankie Price is 26th in the floor exercise (9.9).

Arkansas is in the top 8 nationally on all 4 events, led by its No. 2 ranking in the floor exercise (49.483).

LSU ranks in the top 4 on the vault, uneven bars and floor exercise, but the Tigers are 18th on the balance beam (49.056), where freshman Konnor McClain posted her first 10 last week.

Wieber said the Razorbacks varied their training in the past week, going with a simulated competition Sunday to mirror a Saturday-Monday schedule coming up in the Texas metroplex in a couple of weeks.

“We challenged them with some different beam mental challenges, like they’ll have at LSU, which is an incredible environment but definitely intimidating,” Wieber said.

The Razorbacks did not come off the beam against Auburn, but they had a couple of major saves and several big wobbles en route to a 49.125 on that event.

“The team has still been fired up,” Wieber said. “I feel like the team is on a roll and we want to keep it going.”