Arkansas’ Season Concludes in Sweet 16
The Gymbacks battled their way to a second-consecutive regional final Saturday and despite a valiant effort, came in fourth in the match-up against No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 8 Minnesota and No. 9 Cal to put an end to the season as a team.
The Sooners earned a 198.250 and the Gophers had a 197.725 to qualify for nationals in Fort Worth April 14-16. The Golden Bears came out ahead of the Razorbacks for third place with a final mark of 197.300.
The Hogs bounced back from a fall in the opening routine of the night and opted to put up just five vaulters due to an injury in the lineup, but still posted a 196.675 in the meet, which ties the program record for fifth-best regional score. Arkansas also set a new regional record of 49.400 on floor, which bests the previous one that the team added just two days ago of 49.375.
While their run as a team is complete, the Gymbacks now await official results for individual qualifiers to nationals. Thursday’s top scores from competitors not on an advancing team will receive a berth to nationals. With Oklahoma and Minnesota through to Fort Worth as teams, senior Kennedy Hambrick and sixth-year Hog Sarah Shaffer have the top marks all-around (39.575) and on bars (9.95), respectively, to get individual bids.
Graduate student Maggie O’Hara put a great ending to the meet and her Arkansas career with a stellar bar routine for a 9.900, which also tied for the second-best score of the day.
Arkansas finishes the season with a record of 10-18, which is the best in head coach Jordyn Wieber’s tenure over her three seasons. The Gymbacks will take new program beam (49.475) and vault (49.500) records into 2023, as well as program regional highs on bars (49.450) and floor (49.400). This season marks the fifth top 16 finish in the country for Arkansas in eight years.
The Gymbacks saw a total of 24,830 fans attend five home meets over the course of the season, a new program-best and seventh in the country. The program also beat its season ticket record with 1,711 holders in 2022 and set a new single-meet attendance record with 10,345 fans present at the team’s first-ever meet at Bud Walton Arena on Jan. 14.
The Gymbacks felt pressure early with a fall in the first routine of the meet but shrugged it off quickly as junior Kiara Gianfagna posted a solid 9.825 routine in the second spot. O’Hara went next and in just her third beam routine of the season, posted a season-high 9.800. The Gymbacks built from there and added a 9.825 from senior Bailey Lovett and matching 9.900s from Hambrick and senior Amanda Elswick for a final mark of 49.250 on the event, much improved over the team’s 49.075 in the regional semifinal.
Senior Savannah Pennese got Arkansas out to a solid start on floor with a clean 9.850 in the lead-off spot. Junior Maddie Hickey stepped up in the second spot and while her score of 9.700 didn’t count, it was a reliable routine when the Gymbacks needed it most with changes to the lineup. Freshman Maddie Jones continued to show her consistent tumbling skills with a 9.850 in the third spot, and veteran Shaffer started her day with a gorgeous 9.900 routine. Hambrick added a 9.875 with a steady set, which brought up Lovett to anchor. She delivered as always, with stuck double layout and double back dismounts for a team-best 9.925 and sealed the new program regional high of 49.400.
Sophomore Emma Kelley put up a 9.775 to get Arkansas started on vault, and Shaffer added a solid Yurchenko half in the third spot for a 9.800. Elswick and Hambrick added 9.825 and 9.875 scores, and while the Gymbacks had freshman Leah Smith in the lineup for the sixth spot, the team opted to scratch Smith, who went down with an injury in Thursday’s semifinal, and count senior Savannah Pennese’s 9.525 for a 48.800.
In her only event of the day, Smith showed no jitters and incredible toughness with a huge lead-off bars routine that scored 9.850, complete with a stuck double layout dismount. Sophomore Jensen Scalzo proved her consistency in the second spot with a 9.800 next and Jones delivered a 9.825 halfway through the lineup to keep Arkansas rolling. Shaffer added a 9.850 in the fourth spot to continue her bars dominance on the weekend, and O’Hara came to anchor at sixth. She executed an excellent routine and stuck her double layout dismount cold to put an exclamation point on her Arkansas career and go out with a final 9.900 score. The Gymbacks finished with a 49.225 on bars.
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