Arkansas Gymnastics Team Narrowly Falls To Auburn

Shelby Salmon - ArkansasRazorbacks.com/Walt Beazley

Last night we were back after a two-week hiatus, just in time for hated Auburn to roll into Barnhell.  After trouncing on Mizzou at Columbia, our heroines fell to seventh-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa by more than a full point.  With a season high of 196.2 garnered in the season opener against Bridgeport and Western Michigan, the Gym ‘Backs entered the arena to face off against AW-bun.  Last year's loss to the women in retina searing, prison jumpsuit-orange reverberated in everyone's mind because this is the SEC, we are Southerners, and "letting things go" is really more Bridgeport's speed.

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THINGS THAT ARE HARD TO LET GO!!!! via www.sportinglifearkansas.com

Unfortunately, last night's meet culminated in another loss to the Tigers, but smarts even worse because we had never before lost to Auburn at home in the program's history.  How did it happen?

The night held promise.  Senior Kat Grable-or as I like to call her, "Number One NCAA Gymnast, Kat Grable" because sounds more natural-lead the tenth-ranked ‘Backs on the floor tonight with a third all-around competition title on the season in her pocket against the twelfth-ranked Tigers.  ‘Backs opened on vault while Auburn took to the bars.  Sophomore ‘Back Heather Elswick started for Arkansas with a powerful vault that garnered a 9.825, setting the tone for a series of standout performances, including Senior Scarlett William's impressive front-landing twist that earned her career best of 9.925.  The Gym'Backs scored a team total of 49.45 to tie the school's vault record. Meanwhile, Auburn struggled through bar routines to gain only a 48.975.  Everything was coming up RAZORBACK!

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via 4.bp.blogspot.com

Indeed, Dayman!  Indeed!

On second rotation, ‘Backs headed to the bars, while the Tigers changed out to vault.  This was terrible for MOI as the media table was directly behind the vault runner, thus I was subjected to Auburn whines of "ALLLLL EEEUUUNNNN!!!!"  Understandable enough, as Auburn is ranked fifth nationally on vault.  About the time I rolled my eyes, things took a downward spiral.

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via upload.wikimedia.org

But with decidedly less ReznorCourtesy: Wikipedia

Freshmen Amanda Wellick started a powerful bar routine that she landed on her bum.  Truly unfortunate as the Tigers nailed an endless rotation of grudgingly beautiful vaults while ‘Back Junior Shelby Salmon fell off the lower bar, and Freshmen Erin Frier turned in an incredible, acrobatic routine that deserved much better than a 9.75.  Thanks, judges.  At the end of the second rotaion, Auburn led 9.835 to 97.775 as inwardly screamed "SHAKE IT OFF, DOTTIE!!" because I never miss an opportunity to reference A League of Their Own.

Our ‘Backs then transitioned to beam, where we are ranked fifth nationally, and where I still watched through my eyelashes. Salmon opened on the death stick and landed a complicated half-twist, hands-free combination to earn a 9.75.  Wellick also battled back in a beautiful routine that scored a 9.85.  Meanwhile, Tiger Lexus Demers' opening floor pass culminated in a giant stumble out of bounds that might have been Arkansas' salvation as ‘Back Grable's performed a lovely beam to "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" and earned a 9.925.  Not enough to edge Auburn as the ‘Backs went into the fourth rotation with a team score of 146.975 to the Tigers' 147.5.

I needed some Tigers to fall off dat beam.  As they are ranked twentieth on that event, this seemed assured, and Demers, still shaken from her floor exercise, did hop off during her routine to a paltry 9.1.  To no avail.  Despite a beautiful, complicated floor routine from sophomore Sydnie Dillard, Elswick's high-drama Jessica Rabbit performance, and Grable's powerfully athletic showstopper that earned her a 9.95, the ‘Backs could not top the Tigers.  Fans exited as Auburn claimed victory with a team score of 196.5 to Arkansas' 196.1.

How did the ‘Backs lose at home?  From my perspective, the ‘Backs appeared unable to move past mistakes made early on in the meet.  Also, because I cannot be fined by the NCAA, some of the judges scores were questionable, at best.  Co-Head Coach Mark Cook candidly remarked in the post-meet interview that team members made snap decisions to alter practiced routines once they were in action during routines, and that inexperience makes overcoming bobles even more difficult.  He noted that the team must stick to the routines that they memorize during training, and I agree.

The ‘Backs will host the LSU Tigers at Barnhell next week, and that team is on fire.  This year's Arkansas squad has too much impressive leadership and far too much talent to let silly decisions keep them from what has the potential to be a banner year for the program.  But I have faith in this squad, these coaches, and the sheer ability these women bring to the floor.  Shake it off, Dottie.  And I expect to see all y'all as we welcome the team from Red Stick next week!!

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