Mix of old and new as Razorbacks open gymnastics season
FAYETTEVILLE – The University of Arkansas gymnastics team hope to build a squad largely made up of seniors and freshmen to new heights this season under the guidance of third-year coach Jordyn Wieber .
The No.11 Razorbacks open their season tonight at 7:30 a.m. against Ohio State at Barnhill Arena looking for strong performances from a great mix of veterans and newcomers. The meeting was originally scheduled for 6:45 a.m. but was moved to a later time to allow a live broadcast on the SEC network.
“We have this really interesting dynamic where we have a veteran team and a rookie team at the same time because our senior class has seven and our freshman class has six,” said Wieber. “I think the challenge will be how to structure our roster. Because obviously those who are here and have been doing university gymnastics for a few years are really reliable. You know what to expect when you put them in the lineup. We have yet to get this information from our freshmen.
The Razorbacks have had a stellar season with last year’s SEC schedule ahead of the Nationals. Arkansas posted five 197 or better, more than half of the eight such scores the program produced in its first 18 years of existence, including an academic record of 197.425 in a win at Auburn .
Arkansas finished second in the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional Semifinal with a score of 197.25 and then third in the Regional Final, one place in the NCAA eight-team championship qualifier.
Kennedy Hambrick and Maggie O’Hara, of the All-Americans at the all-around bars and uneven bars respectively, are back to lead the huge senior class.
Hambrick broke the school’s all-around record last season with 39.75 in a win over Missouri. The Pearland, Texas native also got 39.7 in the Auburn victory, which earned her two of the top three all-around scores in school history.
O’Hara was a huge boost to Michigan’s transfer training in 2020. She was a second All-American at the bars in the regular season, the first Razorback to earn that honor, and a first team in the playoffs. with a 9.925 at the NCAA Championships.
O’Hara and Sarah Shaffer, both from spring surgeries, are super seniors, while Hambrick, Amanda Elswick, Bailey Lovett, Abby Johnston and Savannah Pennese are fourth year seniors.
A busy freshman class includes stars Leah Smith, Makenzie Sedlacek and Kalyxta Gamaio, as well as Maddie Jones, Frankie Price (recovering from knee surgery) and Cami Weaver.
“It will be, I think, a good mix of rookies and veterans,” said Wieber. “We will obviously see a lot of Leah Smith and ‘Mackey’ Sedlacek and Kalyxta Gamiao. So you’re going to see a lot of freshmen and I think towards the end of the roster you will see some of these older ones anchor it and be that reliable finisher for our roster.
Smith, from Spring, TX, won the 2021 Nastia Liukin Cup with a huge floor routine. She also finished second at the 2021 National Junior Championships with a first place on floor and a second place in the all-around.
Wieber suggested that up to half of the Razorbacks’ 24 routines could be performed by freshmen early on and possibly later in the year.
Lovett is coming out of elbow surgery and stepped up his leadership role to join O’Hara and Shaffer as the most vocal team leaders.
“She’s not quite 100% but she feels really good,” Wieber said of Lovett just before the Christmas holidays. “She had massive elbow surgery in the spring. … Right now she is fully back on the beam and almost fully back on the floor. We have a question mark as to whether she will be back in bars this season.
A powerhouse on the floor exercise and balance beam last season, the Razorbacks added difficulty in all events, but particularly on vault and floor, Wieber said.
“The only event that comes to mind is the vault,” she said. “Right now we have three starting values of 10.0 that we plan to play in the first competition. We have more athletes capable of having 10.0 starting values. … We jump higher, we land harder, that’s great.
“We’ve always been a great ground team, but our level of ground difficulty this year will increase. We have almost our entire team doing “E” passes, which is really good. “
Ohio State, led by fifth-year coach Meredith Paulicivic, just finished fourth in an NCAA Morgantown (W.Va.) regional final with a score of 195.625 which followed a 196.525 in the semifinals.
The Buckeyes were selected to finish fourth in the Big Ten preseason vote, led by all-round veteran Lexi Edwards and rookie Tory Vetter.
Arkansas have a 1-0 lead in the series, securing a 195.775-94.625 victory in a season opener on Jan. 9, 2009 at Barnhill Arena.
Ohio State in Arkansas
WHEN 7:30 p.m.
O Barnhill Arena, Fayetteville
Ohio State 12-18 RECORDS in 2021; Arkansas 7-14 in 2021
RANKINGS Arkansas is # 11 in WCGA Coaching Poll
SERIES Arkansas leads 1-0
SEC TV Network
COACHES Meredith Paulicivic (fifth year at Ohio State); Jordyn Wieber (third year at Arkansas)