The No. 18 Arkansas gymnastics team made it to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 after an impressive performance in the Norman Regional semifinal Thursday, but its season came to a close in the regional final after the Gymbacks finished fourth Saturday.
No. 1 Oklahoma won the session of the regional semifinal in which Arkansas competed, and also qualified for the final. The Razorbacks came in second, and No. 16 Arizona State and Arizona finished third and fourth, respectively. Senior Kennedy Hambrick won the session’s all-around title with a 39.575, her personal best.
Freshman Leah Smith aimed to compete in the all-around with Hambrick, but during her floor routine in the third rotation, she fumbled her second tumbling pass and did not finish her routine, appearing to have suffered an injury. Smith warmed up her vault in the next rotation, but the Gymbacks scratched her after putting up five strong vaults before her.
The Hogs started on bars, an event that has been a weak spot in the past, Thursday night. There were no issues in the meet, highlighted by sixth-year Gymback Sarah Shaffer delivering a stellar performance that ended with a stuck double layout and earned a 9.950. Each of the Razorbacks on bars scored no less than a 9.850 for a team score of 49.450, the Gymbacks’ new regional record.
Moving to beam, the Gymbacks aimed to keep their lead over both Arizona-based squads. Freshman Kalyxta Gamiao led the team off with a 9.775. Senior Bailey Lovett added a 9.850 and Hambrick made the Hogs’ best score on beam, a 9.875.
The team gained more momentum on the floor. Freshman Maddie Jones continued to dazzle with a 9.900 in the team’s second spot. After waiting 10 minutes for the judges to decide on Smith’s score, Hambrick did not let the situation faze her and earned a 9.900 as well. Lovett ended the rotation for the Hogs, demonstrating her prowess by scoring a 9.925 and pushing Arkansas to set another team regional record of 49.375.
The Gymbacks ended the night on vault. In order to rest Smith, the first five gymnasts had to hit their marks. Sophomore Emma Kelley got the team on the right track with a 9.750 to start off. Senior Savannah Pennese and Shaffer put up a pair of 9.800s followed by Senior Amanda Elswick’s 9.825. Hambrick hit her vault to score a 9.900, sealing second place for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas moved on to the regional final against Oklakoma, No. 8 Minnesota, and No. 9 California in Norman, Oklahoma, on Saturday.
It was the Sooners who earned the first qualifying spot to the NCAA Championships with the Golden Gophers taking the second spot after a runner-up performance.
The final got off to a rough start with Gamiao falling off the beam during the Razorbacks’ first routine. The team fought back with five solid performances, including Hambrick and Elswick scoring 9.900 to get the Hogs rolling.
The Gymbacks continued to show their stuff on the floor. Pennese started it off with a strong 9.850. Shaffer’s 9.900 and Lovett’s 9.925 hoisted the Razorbacks to their highest-ever regional floor score, a 49.400.
On the next rotation, Arkansas opted to compete with only five vaults after scratching Smith from the sixth spot. Shaffer continued her impressive run on the night with a 9.800 vault score. Hambrick delivered the team’s best vault performance and earned a 9.875.
The Hogs ended on the uneven bars, starting with Smith, who made her only appearance of the night and delivered a solid 9.850. Shaffer ended her night with another hit routine, earning a 9.850. Graduate student Maggie O’Hara capped off the evening for the Razorbacks with her final routine in an Arkansas leotard, scoring a stellar 9.900.
Arkansas ended the session with a final score of 196.675, putting the team in fourth place. Only the top two placers in the final earned a team bid to the championships, making Saturday’s final the last 2022 outing for the Razorbacks.
However, it was not the end of the season for every Gymback. Hambrick and Shaffer both earned individual championship bids in the all-around and uneven bars, respectively. They will compete April 14 in Fort Worth, Texas.