The Razorback gymnastics team is seeking to better themselves this year and send the entire team to NCAA nationals after only sending two participants last year.
Sophomore Jessica Yamzon and senior Braie Speed were the only two Razorbacks to be sent to nationals last year. Yamzon individually qualified for the all-around event, which includes vault, bars, balance beam and floor routine, while Speed qualified in the vault event. Yamzon finished in sixth place against all competitors, and Speed finished tied for first with four other competitors. Yamzon is the first Razorback all-arounder to make it to the NCAA championship ever.
“Qualifying to nationals this past year was a great opportunity for Braie and I,” Yamzon said. “We got to experience what it is like to compete at nationals and what it takes to get there. We are pushing to make it as a team this next year.”
Last year, the Razorbacks finished with an overall record of 2-7 and a conference record of 2-5. Arkansas was still ranked because of how high the competition is in the Southeastern Conference. All eight teams in the SEC finished ranked last year: No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Florida, No. 6 Alabama, No. 12 Georgia, No. 15 Auburn, No. 17 Missouri and No.19 Razorbacks, ranked by FloGymnastics. The Razorbacks also went on to the NCAA regionals. The team tied for third and just nearly missed out on making nationals.
The Razorbacks have a rivalry brewing with Georgia, senior Mia Bargiacchi said. She thinks that this year, the Bulldogs will be the Razorbacks most difficult opponent because the new volunteer assistant coach for the Razorbacks, Courtney McCool-Griffeth, and Georgia head coach Courtney Kupets are former collegiate and Olympic teammates, said Bargiacchi.
This year, the five new freshman to compete with them include Sophia Carter, Kailey Gillings, Sydney Laird, Lakin Legereit and Ellie Wylie. These freshmen all bring in their own unique skill set to the team and will be valuable once the season gets going, Bargiacchi said.
“I’m very excited to see our freshmen perform this year,” senior Mia Bargiacchi said. “All five of them are extremely talented and gained some good experience before they got here. I know they will thrive in the college environment.”
Seniors are always a very important part to a team. They show leadership and also have the experience that the underclassmen don’t, Bargiacchi said.
“One of the biggest leaders in this team by far this year is senior Braie Speed,” Burton said. “She went to nationals last year for vault and hasn’t stopped working since last season to improve her routines for this year.”
Speed likes to work very hard and urge everyone to work hard as well. Speed has been training non-stop to make her routine better so that she helps this young Razorback team get to nationals, Barton said.
Yamzon believes that the upperclassmen have taught her a lot, not only in the gym but outside as well. All the seniors are great leaders, and they push her to be better in all that she does, Yamzon said. She is also a leader as well though, Burton and Bargiacchi said. Yamzon tries to be an exemplary gymnast for the others by working hard, having a positive attitude and supporting her teammates, she said.
This year, Arkansas has a very tough schedule, facing everyone in its conference, but the team will also be going up against No. 26 Arizona on March 2, 2018 and No.1 ranked Oklahoma, March 9, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma.
“I am expecting a consistent and strong year from our team this year,” Bargiacchi said. “We have a lot of talent coming in and a lot of girls returning from injuries. I hope to see everyone healthy and performing at their best so we can be the best team possible.”