Arkansas gymnastics team wins tight meet over No. 6 Kentucky

]Arkansas' Frankie Price competes in the floor exercise Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Andy Shupe/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks’ best event did not let them down on Friday in a successful return home after nearly a month on the road.

The No. 16 Razorbacks blasted their school record on the floor exercise to cap a come-from-behind effort to down No. 6 Kentucky 197.4 to 197.15 before a crowd of 6,442 at Barnhill Arena.

The final four Razorbacks on the floor notched 9.925 or better, with sophomore Frankie Price providing the exclamation point, a 9.975 in the anchor spot to close out the meet.

“We had a lot of confidence going into the floor,” Price said on the ESPN2 broadcast. “It’s so much fun to be back in Barnhill. The team is on fire this year. We’re on the same pages that we want. Our team goal was to upgrade and we’ve definitely been doing that. The floor is just another stepping stone.”

Price’s big routine was preceded by Maddie Jones’ 9.95, Leah Smith’s 9.925 and Lauren Williams’ 9.95 as the Razorbacks nailed one tumbling pass after the next and displayed athleticism in their dancing.

Kalyxta Gamiao and Hailey Klein also recorded 9.875s in the first two spots to ignite the team score of 49.675, which broke the school record of 49.6.

“They’re one of the best floor teams in the entire country and what I love about them is they continue to get better and better, even with a lot of success on that event,” Arkansas Coach Jordyn Wieber said.

Arkansas (6-5-1, 3-2-1 SEC) snapped a seven-match losing streak in dual meets to the Wildcats (7-3, 4-2 SEC) dating to a win at Barnhill in 2016. The score of 197.4 tied the fourth-highest score in team history.

“Both are extremely positive and a big confidence booster for the program,” Wieber said of the big score and the win.

The top seven scores in Arkansas history have been notched under the fifth-year coach whose team competed twice last weekend.

“Three meets in eight days is really, really hard to do and to have their best meet on the third one, I’m just really impressed with the team,” she said.

The Razorbacks led through the halfway point by more than four-tenths of a point before the Wildcats went big on the floor exercise with a 49.525 to take a slender lead into the final rotation.

After the routines by Gamiao, Klein and Jones, the Razorbacks had pulled into a tie and the huge scores in the final three spots easily pushed Arkansas over the top.

The Razorbacks won or tied for three of the event titles, with Cami Weaver and Williams sharing the vault at 9.925, Jones capturing the bars (9.95) and Price tying Kentucky All-America all-arounder Raena Worley on the floor.

Arkansas took a lead of 49.4 to 49.275 after the first rotation, with three scores of 9.9 or better on the vault. Weaver notched a career-high 9.925 in the lead-off position and sophomore Lauren Williams matched her with the same score with her Yurachenko 1 1/2 in the anchor spot. Junior Leah Smith had a 9.9 to help the Razorbacks secure their second-highest vault score of the season.

The Razorbacks expanded their margin by three-tenths to 98.775 to 98.35 in rotation two as junior Maddie Jones anchored a 49.375 on the uneven bars with a perfectly stuck landing to score an event-winning 9.95. Senior Jensen Scalzo nailed a 9.9 with a nailed landing.

At the same time, the Wildcats, ranked No. 1 in the country on the vault, had some landing issues. Worley under-rotated her landing and had a major reset backward to prevent a rear landing and salvage a non-scoring 9.7. That made Kentucky have to count a 9.75.

The Razorbacks did not have any falls on the balance beam in the third rotation, but they had several major wobbles and balance checks to lose some momentum. 

Meanwhile, Kentucky soared with a 49.525 on the floor exercise, headlined by Worley’s 9.975 in the anchor spot and Creslyn Brose’s 9.95 before her. 

Hailey Davis and Isabella Magnelli also record 9.9s as the Wildcats snagged a slender 147.875 to 147.725 advantage heading into the final rotation.