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Arkansas Gymnastics Struggles vs #2 Florida at Barnhill

The Gymbacks were back at home on Friday night, but didn't perform as well as they'd hoped.

Freshman Paige Zazisky took home two event titles as one of the night's bright spots for the Gymbacks
Freshman Paige Zazisky took home two event titles as one of the night's bright spots for the Gymbacks

And we are back after a two-week hiatus that saw the eighth-ranked Arkansas Gymbacks bested on the plains at Auburn, but who fought valiantly at Fort Worth as they battled number-one Oklahoma and (then) second-ranked LSU to earn a team score of 196.250.  That number represents the third 196-plus score for this Gymback squad, but the desire to prove that to (currently) second-ranked Florida was not clear this evening among a jittery squad in a lethargic Barnhill Arena.  To my greatest dismay, there were no Gainesville folk milling about in jorts.

Like we didn't all want this.

To the vault!  Arkansas opened on its most impressive event, as junior Heather Elswick, sophomore Amanda Wellick, and breakout freshman Paige Zaziski each scored 9.9 for the Gymbacks.  Meanwhile, Florida struggled to hit fundamentals on bars, despite pretty and complicated routines.  Also a set back was the rough start that senior Gator Kytra Hunter faced during her first two events.  The Gymbacks led the Gators at the end of the first rotation with a score of 49.425 to 49.20.

Florida quickly regrouped to command a decisive lead for the rest of the evening over an Arkansas squad that struggled to find footing against the nation's second-best gymnastics team.  The mediocre scores afforded to senior Cailee Ellsworth, junior Erin Freier and sophomore Keara Glovers seemed suspect in light of the complicated, athletic work that Coach Mark Cook has clearly cultivated among these three high-flyers.  Standout Zaziski did garner the highest score for a freshman Gymback this year on this event as she earned a 9.85.  Still, her effort was not enough to undercut Florida's undeniable skill on vault.  Even Hunter's crash landing did not matter as the Gators led the Gymbacks, 98.650 to 98.3.

Beam.  Is.  The.  Worst.  After the meet, Zaziski spoke freely, acknowledging that the beam "messed them [Arkansas] up."  Indeed.  Bless their hearts, and other Southernisms that are polite when everyone knows you would rather be cussin'.  Freier opened that event with a beauty of a routine that earned the Gymbacks a 9.8, while Zaziski again belied her freshman standing with an impressive 9.875 that junior Sydnie Dillard duplicated.  In between, however, was a battle for Wellick, Glover, and freshman Samantha Nelson to stay on that dadgum branch.  My heart especially broke for Glover.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Keara Glover has the potential for the best beam routine of this squad, if she can stay on. She fell off vs. Bama, too. :(</p>&mdash; Darkest Marshmallow (@MickiNickHarp) <a href="">February 7, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

I stand by this assessment of Glover's abilities and cannot wait until she nails this sucker.  As the Gymbacks spiraled in a personal hell that probably smelled of Axe Body Spray and spiritually weighed as much as Ariana Grande's weave, the Gators sailed through floor exercises that would earn all six of those gymnasts a place in Matt Stone and Trey Parker's circus.  Florida, 147.875.  Arkansas, 146.250.

Pictured: Florida Gator gymnasts in a cartoon fever dream.

Arkansas' last best hope was floor where this team has shined.  Reliably wonderful Elswick and Wellick racked up 9.875 each, while senior Stephani Canizaro opened this event with drama and pizaaz that garnered a 9.825 that Dillard mimicked.  It would simply not be enough to conquer the Gators as freshman Ericha Fassbender and senior Hunter bookended the beam with a pair of 9.85s, while sophomore Claire Boyce hammered the Gators home with a 9.875 on that event.  At the end of the night, Florida exited Barnhill victorious, 197.2 over an Arkansas 195.375.

A disappointment, to be sure, and a memory that this Gymback squad will need to shake off immediately in order to focus on the tri-meet in Fayetteville against Illinois State and Southeast Missouri.  The Gymbacks should hand those squads an easy pair of losses; those are not elite teams.  However, Arkansas needs to regroup and focus on nailing those fundamentals and those complicated combinations and elements that make this young program a standout amid a conference full of would-be Nastia Lukins.  And this Gymback team has the verve and tenacity to hit any squad where it hurts.  #NeverYield, ladies.

In the meantime, I am on a personal, night long boycott of Tom Petty.