Arkansas gymnasts finished 6th at SEC meet

Arkansas gymnasts celebrate during the SEC Gymnastics Championships on Saturday, March 23, 2024, in New Orleans. (Photo via SEC Media Portal)

The No. 12 University of Arkansas gymnastics team notched three meet records at the SEC Championships, but they could not overcome a slow start and finished second behind No. 13 Missouri in Session I on Saturday afternoon at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Arkansas wound up sixth overall after each of the higher-rated teams in the night session passed its score of 197.05, a program best for the Razorbacks.

No. 3 LSU captured the title, its fifth, with a 198.075 led by Haleigh Bryant’s 39.8 to win the all-around title as the Tigers competed with a distinct home-crowd advantage near its campus in Baton Rouge, La. 

Alabama finished second with a 197.75, followed by Kentucky (197.6) and Florida (197.3).

Arkansas not only posted its best-ever score at the SECs, it also notched program highs with a 49.45 on the balance beam and a 49.25 on the uneven bars. The team score was the Razorbacks’ school-record ninth of 197 or better this season, and it surpassed their previous high at the SEC championships of 196.825 set last season in Duluth, Ga.

“Overall, I think it was a really solid performance,” Arkansas Coach Jordyn Wieber said. “Obviously there are some places we we know we need to improve heading into [NCAA] regionals, but first postseason meet and highest SEC Championships score in program history, so there’s lots of highlights and lots of things to be proud of.”

Missouri got off to a good start on the uneven bars and held the Razorbacks at bay the rest of the way en route to a 197.275 to avenge a regular-season loss at home to Arkansas.

No. 14 Auburn placed third in the early session with a 196.775 and No. 18 Georgia had a 196.075.

Arkansas managed four scores of 9.9 or better on the day, with three of them coming on the balance beam. Sophomore Cami Weaver and freshman Hailey Klein posted matching 9.925s, powered by perfect landings, on the beam to tie for third place in the session with Missouri’s Sydney Schaffer behind the Georgia duo of Lily Smith and Anya Turner, who had 9.95s.

“I was most proud of, honestly, the beam performance that was our closest to potential that we’ve shown in the last couple of meets,” Wieber said.

Junior Maddie Jones nailed a 9.9 on the floor exercise to tie for the event title in the session with the Missouri trio of Kennedy Griffin, Jocelyn Moore and Sienna Schreiber. Jones also posted 9.9 on the balance beam.

The Razorbacks’ normally explosive floor exercise team put up a 49.3, not in its usual scoring range, with deductions apparently coming on the landings of tumbling passes, according to announcers John Roethlisberger and Samantha Peszek on SEC Network.

Arkansas, competing in Olympic order by virtue of having the top seed in the session, struggled in the opening rotation to fall behind Missouri and Auburn. The Razorbacks did not stick their vault landings in the first rotation and wound up with a 49.05.

Lauren Williams led the rotation with a 9.85 in the anchor spot, followed by Klein (9.825) and the duo of Frankie Price and Weaver with 9.8s.

Arkansas trailed both Missouri (49.325), which opened on the uneven bars, and Auburn (49.15), which opened on the balance beam.

The Razorbacks improved to 49.25 on the uneven bars, with solid landings from Jones (9.875) in the anchor spot, as well as Reese Drotar (9.875) and Priscilla Park (9.85). However, Missouri went strong on the balance beam with a 49.3 to increase its lead slightly.

Arkansas turned in all strong landings but one in the big balance beam rotation, posting a 49.45 to narrow its deficit against the Tigers to 0.275. That put the Razorbacks in range of completing a comeback, but Arkansas could not come up with the kind of floor exercise performance it have flashed most of the season while the Tigers were scoring a 49.25 on the vault.

Lily Smith, the Georgia freshman, took the all-around title in the session with a 39.6 to edge Auburn’s Cassie Stevens (39.5) and Schreiber (39.425).