Newcomers and Floor Shine, Arkansas falls short of Kentucky

Arkansas held its third annual Women’s Empowerment Night on Friday and saw its second-biggest crowd of the season, but the Gymbacks fell short to the Kentucky Wildcats by a final margin of 195.675-196.700.

Arkansas was without senior all-rounder Kennedy Hambrick on the night, but there were still plenty of positives on the night, especially from the team’s freshmen. Maddie Jones competed in two events and tied her career on bars with a 9.850 and set a new one on floor with a 9.900 score for the event title, the first of her pig career. Makenzie Sedlacek and Leah Smith also posted 9.8+ scores on vault, and Kalyxta Gamiao made her Arkansas debut on balance beam and scored 9.825.

Graduate student and All-American Maggie O’Hara bounced back in spectacular fashion from falls on bars over the past two weeks and earned a 9.925 for her second event title of the season. Senior Bailey Lovett shone again as the ground anchor and posted a 9.900 to cap the encounter and share first place in the event with Jones.

“Despite some crashes, we had quite a few highlights. Maggie came back to the bars, changed her routine and hit it, it was awesome,” head coach Jordyn Wieber said. “Vault was exactly where it needed to be, compatible with controlled landings…but we have to stay on the gear to score, so we’re going to go back to the gym and practice, address and work on it, and hopefully we will return next Sunday to Mizzou a little more confident than we were this evening.

A total of 4,139 fans were in attendance at Barnhill Arena on Friday, which included an energetic student section that helped propel the Gymbacks through the night, including on the floor. Arkansas posted a 49.375 on the event to extend its 49+ streak on the ground to 37 games.

The team also paid tribute to its alumni and celebrated women’s empowerment once again on Friday, which included specially themed warm-up leotards for Arkansas and a meet-and-greet presentation of the Gymbacks who made of the program what it is today, including Wieber’s first head coach and predecessor. , Mark Cook.

To jump

Arkansas started the night on the vault and warmed up as the rotation progressed. Two big scores came from Smith and grad student Sarah Shaffer midway through training with 9.825 and 9.875 respectively, a season high for Shaffer. Sedlacek followed with a 9.800 and senior Amanda Elswick closed the rotation with a 9.825 for a total of 49.075 for the Gymbacks at the event.


Newcomers Arkansas kept the pressure on in the second rotation as Smith and Jones posted back-to-back scores of 9.825 and 9.850 to give the Hogs some momentum in third and fourth place. O’Hara then took to anchor and redeemed herself after two tough final outings. She nailed every skill and completed a classic double layout takedown with a stick for a 9.925 that secured the bars crown for the night.


Junior Kiara Gianfagna showed composure under pressure as the beam leader and matched her season high of 9.850 with a 1.5 blocked out for a score of 9.850. Honolulu, Hawaii rookie Kalyxta Gamiao then made his Arkansas debut with a solid routine. Her series of double back layout steps and side somi skills were executed like a veteran and she scored a 9.825. Lovett added a 9.850 for third place, good for Arkansas’ best score of the day.


The Gymbacks saved their best for last on floor and it all started with senior Savannah Pennese, who matched her career high of 9.875 she set earlier in the season. Playing in front of the student section, Arkansas thrived on energy and did not post a score less than 9.850 on the floor. Jones came in third and had a stellar performance that culminated in a 9.900, which ties Sedlacek as the highest floor score for a freshman this season. Lovett rounded out the competition with her crowd-pleasing floor routine and delivered. With excellent control over each of her passes, she scored a 9.900 to tie for first place and cap Arkansas’ rotation with a 49.375, her second-highest rushing score of the season.


Arkansas travels to Columbia, Mo. on Sunday, Feb. 20 for a tri-conference with Missouri and Kentucky at 12 p.m. CT. The Gymbacks then head home on Friday, February 25, when they host Georgia for Senior Night at 7:45 p.m.

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